Committee restores proposed baseline cuts for human services

Budget will not roll back to 2019 levels

By: - February 18, 2021 11:44 am

One of the staircases leading to the legislative chambers of the state capitol in Helena, Montana. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan)

A proposal by the Republican lawmakers on the subcommittee reviewing the appropriations for health and human services has rolled back their proposal to trim nearly $1 billion from the roughly $3.1 billion budget.

Previously, the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Section B had planned on using 2019 actual numbers as the baseline for the 2021 budget. Some lawmakers were alarmed because the budget proposed by Gov. Greg Gianforte supported a budget that mostly held the line on spending with a few modest increases. Reverting to the 2019 budget would have meant trimming $960 million out of a $3.095 billion budget.

During executive action on Thursday morning, the subcommittee agreed to several key changes: First, that the proposed 2021 budget that had originally been used would serve as the baseline, and cuts to programs would be made from that, rather than using 2019 numbers and adding funds back. Secondly, the committee also changed how its portion of the mammoth overall appropriations bill has more information and more line items to promote public transparency about how the state’s largest department spends its money.

Both a measure to adopt the 2021 numbers as the baseline and the motion to break out more line items passed unanimously among the seven members.

Members of both parties seemed pleased and continued to spend the rest of the committee, and plan to spend Friday’s morning meeting, reviewing programs in the department.

Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, a vocal critic of the move to revert to 2019 funding levels, said she was “grateful” that her Republicans colleagues supported rolling back the numbers and agreed that transparency was essential.

“For the record, transparency was the exact reason for our original motion in the first place,” said vice chairman Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.