Consequences Of Montana’s Budget Cuts Just Starting To Be Felt

by William Skink

Everyone who works in social services knew what was going to happen when the inevitability of budget cuts became a reality: cutting supportive services would lead to more costly interventions in ERs and other institutions.

Now, just 4 months into 2018, the numbers don’t lie. What we warned would happen is happening:

“If a person with a series mental illness is not able to meet their basic needs of housing, clothing, health, safety — or they are an imminent threat to themselves or others, they are suicidal, or homicidal — and that gets reported, then our office will file a petition to put them into inpatient treatment involuntarily if they are not willing to go,” explained Missoula County Deputy County Attorney Jordan Kilby.

Kilby says police officers or family members will bring them into an emergency room for an evaluation if they have committed a crime or they are unable to maintain their homes or showing other symptoms of a mental illness.

Compared to the same four-month time frame in 2015, 2016, and 2017, there are already almost 20 more cases than usual. There were 74 cases in 2015, 69 in 2016 and in 2017 there were 78 cases. Just this year so far, there are 98 petitions for involuntary commitment filed by the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

Not only are the number of these commitments increasing, but Kilby says people are coming across their caseload in worse condition than usual. It’s called decompensating, where people living with these severe types of mental illness stop taking care of themselves and become a danger to themselves or others.

I know Republicans like to think of themselves as fiscally conservative, so maybe the hard numbers of more costly interventions will persuade them to be more ideologically consistent with their conservatism.

Yeah, right.

And what are Montana Democrats up to? Recently there was a gaggle of candidates in Bonner getting all revved up about the “new economy“:

The delegation’s stop at the KettleHouse Amphitheater marked the first on a statewide tour aimed at a number of sectors as the Democratic Party begins crafting its legislative priorities ahead of next year’s session.

While in Missoula, the delegation also toured the Urban Indian Health Center and held a roundtable discussion with local technology businesses to discuss economic development.

“We wanted to get a sense of what’s bringing jobs to Missoula, what’s working here,” said Jenny Eck, the House Democratic leader from Helena. “As a caucus, we’re starting to think about our priority bills and how we want to shape those bills.”

On Facebook I commented on this Missoula Current article, saying the delegation should acknowledge those who this new economy is leaving behind. I didn’t expect two Legislators–Shane Morigeau and Jessica Karjala–to engage in a back and forth, but they did, and here are some of their comments:

Jessica Karjala: I take my work and my vote very seriously. Like Shane, I also voted – and fought fiercely against the cuts. As a former advocate for people with disabilities I knew all too well who would be harmed. I left the session and special session heartsick and angry. If you know just one thing about the legislature, know this – it is a zero sum game. There is no give and take with the majority. It is winner take all. They did not compromise. They didn’t have to, but they should have. Everything is controlled by the majority party at the legislature. They pick who sits on committees and they stack those comittees with far more republicans than Democrats so they control all legislation. All..And they choose a budget revenue to base spending bills on. Right from the start of the regular session they took $100 million off the table by choosing a false revenue estimate. They also refused to consider bills to *reinstate* a tax on the wealthiest, a tax on wine, rental cars, out of state owners of second homes in Montana. None. The majority decides every single thing, including whether or not to cut or to provide care for vulnerable populations. The Democrats, as the minority could speak out against rhe cuts and vote against the cuts, but make no mistake, the cuts, and everything else were decided by the republican majority. They can try to blame the Governor, but in reality, what he does is protect us from the worst bills the majority pass. The Governor did not make the cuts because he didn’t set the budget or vote on spending. The republicans made the cuts – and they made them permanent by putting them into law. Even if the Governor had vetoed their cuts we we would have ended up with the same result, except it would have taken longer and cost more money. This is all on the republican majority. It can’t be argued.

Shane Morigeau: Our legislature can and should do better for Montana. We should do more than just acknowledge who the economy is leaving behind. We need action. It is tough to move our bills through when we are in the minority caucus, but we will continue to push forward. I can assure you that I hear and feel what you are saying and I will keep bringing legislation forward to address your concern.

I, of course, responded. First to Shane:

Here’s what I think, Shane, I think you legislators are playing political games with people’s lives, called pin the blame for slashing services on the other party, and the Governor is more concerned with his political career than he is with dealing with the consequences of what was done to DPHHS. The pain is just now starting to be felt and it’s going to get worse.

Then to Jessica:

if everyone knew the revenue estimates were crap, why was the alarm not raised during the session? You have a much bigger platform than lowly service providers on the frontline of this disaster. I suspect, since you are saying the minority party is totally helpless, the idea was to not make a big stink about bullshit revenue estimates, let the crisis happen, then use the crisis to politically damage Republicans to make gains in the mid terms. But, it appears to me your party leadership is more focused on reelecting Tester and not focused on taking back the legislature.

I do think Democratic Legislators are mostly blameless for the budget crisis. The Governor, on the other hand, does have some responsibility for how this whole thing was handled. I suspect the Governor’s office was less than forthcoming with Democratic Legislators about the potential severity of cuts triggered by bullshit revenue estimates, as well as the strategy to protect the vulnerable who would suffer under these cuts. Last February, Jenny Eck discussed the frustration on MTPR, and it wasn’t just frustration with Republicans during this clusterfuck:

You know, I’ve had lots of conversations with legislators who have felt somewhat frustrated and I think there’s efforts on both sides to try and have more information available. I certainly think that that’s something that is important for the public to understand, you know, how the process works, and I think there’s efforts to improve on that going forward. My goal going forward is to make sure that we are putting working families, regular Montanans first and foremost in decisions that we make.

While our political leaders make excuses for fucking over the elderly, disabled and mentally ill, the only thing for certain is things are going to get worse before they get better.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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7 Responses to Consequences Of Montana’s Budget Cuts Just Starting To Be Felt

  1. Eric says:

    You really aren’t being fair.

    The 800lb Gorilla in the room you aren’t talking about, is that the State doesn’t have unlimited funds, and that taxpayers don’t want to be on the hook for more spending.

    When Gov BS increased State spending 25%, and added 1000 State employees, I knew how it would end up, and nobody seemed to care.

    Then throw in the Obama economy, and his regimes attacks on coal, drilling, timber, and mining, and we have a State that is underfunded.

    It was Gov Bullock who decided to cut funds where he did, trying to make political capital, and you see the results.

    It was also Gov Bullock, who was too stupid to work with the legislature, and pass a few bills they wanted in exchange for something he wanted.

    If you were fair, you would lay 85% of the blame at his feet.

    • JC says:

      We can blame the governor all we want — and I agree he deserves a heap of blame, probably for some other reasons too — but how does finger pointing help the people who are suffering — and in some cases already, dying — from impacts of the budget cuts?

      We can argue politics till the cows come home, but what are you and republicans going to do to help Montana’s most vulnerable people who are bearing the brunt of the legislature’s and governor’s incompetence?

  2. Eric says:

    I’m thinking that State Revenues will get better and better, and if people like you, who have a passion for this issue keep the pressure on Helena they will eventually do what is right.

    We didn’t have these shortfalls whe Judy Martz was in office, did we?

    We had bad fire seasons, and surpluses.

    • JC says:

      Well, you can read Strandberg’s history of Martz (with a strong republican legislature), which includes a not dissimilar period of time like the last legislative session: bad budgeting and revenue forecast, across the board state budget cuts affecting social and mental health services disproportionately, special session, more cuts… sound familiar?

      And then we have to remember her corrupt activities with ARCO, the Yellowstone (Tim Blixseth was one of her donors), and a variety of out-of-state funders, her part in the Hedges/Slider accident/death (where she washed the blood off of Hedges clothes “the mother in me made me do it”), etc. So yeah, she wasn’t to keen to run against Schweitzer, particularly when he had a 3 to 1 poll advantage over her.

  3. Eric says:

    Selective history – he ignores some important facts, such as the fact that the State functioned fine, was affordable, and she left with a surplus.

    Also, not being a learner from history, he ignores the fact that Montanans always give sitting governors a second term. Judy would have easily defeated Gov BS.

    Stranberg thought Hillary would win too.

  4. Pingback: Why Is Bullock Denying Supplemental Funding For Community Based Services? | Reptile Dysfunction

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