by Pete Talbot

Special session?

There are rumors in Helena that this session could end early.  It’s all coming down to the budget, now, and since the Republicans aren’t accepting any amendments or, really, compromising on anything, their budget proposal will head straight to the governor. Schweitzer will veto it.  That pretty much guarantees an early out — I’ve heard April 2 instead of the scheduled April 21 end date — and a special session.  Thanks, GOP, for not reaching across the aisle and getting the people’s business done in 90 days … and costing the state more money in a special session.

Champ is still a chump

They don’t mind spending money on a special session but are loathe to spend money on children, Montana college kids, seniors and the poor.  Republican Champ Edmunds (HD-100) has a letter to the editor today that plays fast-and-loose with the facts-and-figures in explaining the Republican budget.

A more accurate description comes from Democrat Carol Williams (SD-46):

“The Governor’s budget is balanced, funds critical services and maintains the second largest savings account in Montana history.  The Republican budget is balanced on the backs of women, children and seniors.  Republicans took an ax to the budget when we have money in the bank,” she said.  “I had hoped that we would be able to say to Montana’s families: we’re going to take care of your children if they get sick, make sure you put food on your table, and keep your homes warm.  But the Republican majority turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Montanans who came before the committee asking for services to be restored.”

Here are some of the facts:

* $206.2 million in cuts to the Montana families, kids, students, and seniors

* $49 million eliminated from Medicaid which would result in 4,084 babies losing coverage.

* $34.9 million cut from SNAP/Food Assistance impacting 53,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, and 42,000 adults who would go without food benefits for two months.

* $35 million rejected in healthcare information technology for 47 critical access hospitals in rural areas across the state.

* $26 million slashed from Healthy Montana Kids that would boot 5,000 children off of health insurance.

* $9.6 million removed from LIEAP that will force 12,000 families to go without heating assistance the next two winters.

* $4.7 million cut from family services eliminating services used by over 27,000 Montana families every year for healthcare, screenings and reproductive care.

* $32 million in cuts to higher education, which will result in a tuition increase of 26% over the next two years.

Williams added that with the $174.2 million in cuts to the Health and Human Services budget, Republicans turned back over $80 million in federal money, which could go to other states.  She also noted that the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimates that for every $10 million cut in healthcare, about 144 jobs are lost.  These cuts could result in a loss of over 2,508 healthcare jobs.

The tale of two headlines

I’ve been visiting the Magic City of Billings and reading the Billings Gazette. Here was the Front Page, above the fold, headline on Sunday:

Poll: Tightening up medical marijuana law preferable to repeal

When I checked my hometown paper, the Missoulian, here was its Front Page headline:

Most Favor Repeal

And it had a subhead that read: Lee Newspaper poll shows that 52 percent support dumping law.

Here’s the story, and while the Missoulian headline is technically correct, if you read the entire piece you’ll notice that if not given any other choice, yeah, Montanans would be in favor of a repeal. But, if given the option, 57 percent backed stricter regulations and licensing requirements, while 31 percent wanted to repeal the law and 11 percent favored keeping the current law intact.  So basically, 68 percent don’t favor repeal.

The Gazette got it right.  Missoulian: that’s lazy headline writing.

Molnar screws Missoula

I was pleasantly surprised when two of the three Republicans on the PSC voted to allow the Clark Fork Coalition “intervenor status” in the review of Mountain Water’s sale to the Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm.  Republicans Bill Gallagher and Travis Kavulla joined Democrats Gail Gutsche and John Vincent in the votes.  Volatile Republican Brad Molnar voted against CFC in intervening on behalf of Missoula water drinkers saying, “it’s a purchase issue and they don’t have standing.”  Thanks, four out of five, for voting (initially at least) in Missoula’s interest.  The Garden City needs all the friends it can get while battling this international conglomerate.

Some newspaper kudos

I’m one of the first to throw brickbats at our state’s newspapers. We are, however, extremely fortunate to have veteran Lee Newspaper reporters Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson covering the state capitol.  An unscientific poll over at LiTW (you’ll have to scroll down a little) has blogs being the first source for information on the Montana Legislature — among bloggers, naturally.  That’s a nice ego stroke but I still continue to turn to seasoned reporters as my first source for news and analysis. Then I go to the blogs.  (I particularly respect anything Dennison writes on health care issues.  His Montana perspective on the effects of the national health care debate has been Pulitzer Prize calibre IMHO.)

John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune has done some outstanding legislative reporting although I don’t follow him as much.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Same with Montana Public Radio.  Thank you, all, and keep up the good work.

  1. lizard19

    Pete, i think you’re being generous to whoever formed that headline by just calling them “lazy”. i think it goes a bit deeper than that; manipulative is a word that comes to mind.

    • JC

      Headline copy writers are never “lazy.” The best part about working in a newsroom and being an editor often is coming up with the perfect headline–whether it is manipulative or clever, funny or subversive.

      When the headline reads “Most Favor Repeal” who is that “Most” refers to? Voters? Cranky old farts? The Missoulian editorial board?

      A headline like this meant to feed a meme that the Missoulian is building about the issue. It is a self-fullfilling gratuity meant to backstop a position the Missoulian already has taken, judging by the way their stories have ran, as of late.

  2. most of the damage from this legislative session is being borne by the poor, children, the elderly and disabled. hard to fathom a political party like the Montana GOP that is so cynical as to make these folks suffer more during a recession simply to make a hollow symbolic political gesture.

    leaving money on the table from the federal government alone should get them all recalled for malfeasance and reckless endangerment of our most vulnerable citizens.

    couple this cynicism with the hypocrisy of wrapping everything the MT GOP does in transparently marketing themselves in the shroud of family values should sicken anyone who considers themselves followers of any decent religion.

  3. Ending the session early, then having a special session…will probably end up being 90days (or less) total…how is this costing more money?

    • petetalbot

      Are you asking a rhetorical question, Rusty? If you reconvene the legislature, get all the staff back in place and all the support services, have the legislators return, fire up the infrastructure, postpone important budget planning and disrupt standard government operations, will that cost more? Gosh, I don’t know.

      • awww, come on Pete! It’s all fun and games and who can one-up on who.

        Seems here, though, that Repubs have the greater gamble.

        I’ll buy the popcorn. I’ll even throw in the white cheddar sprinkle from The Good Food Store.

  4. Regarding the special session: I’m hearing a hard date of April 8th now (originally the 2nd). The thinking there is that the Republicans are saving the taxpayers money by delivering what they feel is a fiscally responsible budget and if the Governor vetoes it, then he is the one wasting money because they have to go back to do the budget.

    CW is also that it is not a special session since they’re going to leave leftover days…and unless they “Sine Die” on April 8th then they are free to call themselves back as they choose since they constitutionally have 90 days given to them.

    Now – they’re gambling against what you say, Pete – that the public will agree that the budget the repubs approved is fiscally responsible and that the Governor will look like he’s wasting taxpayer time and money by vetoing the budget, resulting in the legislature having to come back.

    Seems to me it all rests on the Gov’s budget projections – because the different opinion there regarding revenue is how the repubs are now justifying all the cuts to DPHHS & Veteran’s care, etc.

    Teflon Man better be right. His last revenue projection was off by 33 million…but that could be because he averaged everything out. Early spring, by nature, seems to be a little slow economically.

    On the good note – timber should pick back up. Not to be morbid, but one of the largest waste product laying around after the tsunami seems to be 2 by 4’s. They’ll have to get ’em somewhere.

    Gas? Oil and natural gas should be picking up too – Middle East is in a flux, pushing prices up. Natural gas is only growing as everyone (but a few, ah hem) is generally moving from coal since natural gas is plentiful and cleaner.

    Except for China….who is happy to have the state and federal government condemn private property and state fish hatchery lands so they can get our subpar dirty coal.

    • petetalbot

      Insightful points, jhwygirl, but who really wants a special session? The Republicans compromised on zip, nada, nothing. The electorate expected better. Your economic analysis looks accurate but for me, the far-right wing that dominates looks like cold-hearted, thoughtless idealogues with little concern for most Montanans, and obviously, no foresight. We can do better, economically (without sacrificing all our natural resources) and humanely.

      • While their plan is to not call it a special session because technically it’s part of the 90 days constitutionally appropriated, you are correct imo – coming back is coming back and it costs money to shut down and start up.

        Not to mention how gosh darn inconvenient it is the their own employees in the legislative branch.

        A little more on economic development. They’ve ignored the fact that recreation is the largest growing economic sector in Montana, and has been for a decade or so.

        Now – it isn’t the largest sector but it is the largest growing sector, something that they’ve been unable to grasp even in their questions in these regards.

        GOP and the east is falling all over themselves on drill drill drill and blaming regs for discouraging development or something like that. Hell – there is TONS of leases and the companies hold those leases. There’s only so much equipment to go around…and when they’re done in SD, where everything and everyone is all there together getting everything they need done, the whole tribe of roughnecks are going to head west to where the bigger gettings are out of that reserve.

        They’re coming, no matter what – and in their damned good most profitable time that their schedule can give ’em.

        The idea that we have to make it easier and more detrimental to our clean and healthful environment to do so – for a non-renewable resource – is all the more ridiculous. It’s not like the can go make the stuff somewhere else….and oil and gas is always always always needed for national security (i.e., running our military).

        They’re no Einsteins, this bunch, that’s for sure – but they will jump all over themselves to do the bidding for Great Northern and Arch and Exxon.

  5. Point of clarification, Pete. The poll didn’t say anything about “first”. It just asked “where are you getting your news”, and that’s why multiple answers were allowed.

    The funny part to that is that most of the blog posts that bloggers get their news from, of course, link to traditional media for source, and often to Twitter. The ironic part to *that* is what I affectionately and with all respect call the “jhwygirl lament”. She has pointed out many many times that traditional media is very poor at identifying what the hell bill they are discussing. Almost never is it written what a bill would actually accomplish or revoke, save through the media filter you point out here in this post. The Twitter, on the other hand, gives immediacy to discussing HB276, without of course ever clarifying what HB276 actually is. As I’ve written before, it is often too much ‘inside baseball’. In either case, it is left to the reader to suss this information out.

    The bridge between those two forms are the blogs. Often, a blog post will a) mention bills by name, b) link to the actual text of the bill, and c) give opinion and critique of the arguments given and effects of the bill.

    • petetalbot

      I’m an old dog, Rob, and I look to the dead tree media for my news. It’s a losing battle but I celebrate those few who still excel at the craft. Otherwise, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Not sure I’ll ever tweet, though. My attention span is short, but not that short.

  1. 1 Montana Blog Roundup 26 March 2011 | Intelligent Discontent

    […] This post by Pete Talbot over at 4and20 blackbirds is a collection of interesting views about newspapers, medical marijuana, the state of the budget, Champ Edmunds, and more. I’ve always liked these kinds of sharply written posts that provide quick insight on a number of topics, and Pete is one of the best. […]

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