Don’t let another ‘trigger bill’ go off while no is looking

Budget disproportionately hurts vulnerable Montanans

Disability Rights Montana logo (Used with permission)

After surviving the past year, 2017 seems like a lifetime ago. But for individuals with disabilities, it was a pretty memorable and terrible year in Montana.

As a reminder, in 2017 Montana experienced a revenue downturn, and the executive and Legislature responded with cuts. The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) experienced the deepest cuts.

The Legislature made cuts to programs helping seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes, to chemical dependency treatment, and also closed 19 rural public assistance offices. The cuts made life more difficult for kids with autism, people with Alzheimer’s, and individuals with psychiatric disabilities. Many people who had been stable in jobs and housing lost both without the support they needed. Those people and our systems still have yet to fully recover.

What people may forget from 2017 is that it was a “trigger bill” that started all these cuts. This was a complicated bill to automatically trigger budget cuts if revenue fell short. The bill’s nuances were challenging even for seasoned policymakers and lobbyists to understand, and that was the point.

Now we face yet another trigger bill – Senate Bill 182. This trigger is a bit different. It triggers tax cuts at a later date if certain parameters are met. These cuts will primarily benefit the wealthiest in the state, do little to help regular people, and inevitably have a substantial and lasting cost.

These triggers will probably happen outside of any future legislative sessions, with few people paying attention. Future sessions will tell us that the state doesn’t have enough revenue, more budget cuts will happen, and people with disabilities will be at risk.

And again – no one will take responsibility. It will all seem to be taking place “automatically” with no one to blame.

SB 182 puts the health and well-being of Montanans at risk. It will lead to less revenue over time and will put at risk everything that state dollars support.

I urge the Legislature not to bind Montana’s future budgets and future legislators with SB 182. Let each future Legislature design its own budget based upon the current state dynamics. Then they can be accountable for those decisions and to their constituents for the consequences.

Brenneman is the staff attorney for Disability Rights Montana.