Yeah, What Safety Net?

by William Skink

I attended a panel discussion tonight, hosted by Partnership Health Center. The talk even had a title–What Safety Net?

There were five people on the panel: the crime prevention officer from Missoula’s police department, a woman who oversees social workers at Providence, the PACT guy from Western Montana Mental Health Center, Diane Sands, who represents Senate District 49, and someone from NAMI willing to share their own personal experience of dealing with mental health issues.

Several participants mentioned the goal of being “solution-oriented”. Maybe that came from the moderator, Susan Hay Patrick, Chief Executive Officer of United Way.

The most compelling commentary came from the book-ends of the panel, the first speaker from the police department and the last speaker who self-identified as suffering from chronic mental illness.

The crime prevention officer, Ethan Smith, has been with MPD for 9 years. While the increase in crisis calls over just the last 2 years is bad enough, it was the reality of how many officers have had people complete suicide with a firearm right in front of them that was the most disturbing.

The last speaker was compelling because he spoke from experience. He spoke of someone he met in a psychiatric hospital who was fixated on getting a pair of boots (it was Buffalo, NY, and winter). When asked if he had a plan to kill himself, the man said yes, he would drown himself in the river.

About a week later the man drowned himself in the river.

This final speaker speaking from experience admitted he didn’t have any solutions. That’s because, unlike Diane Sands, he wasn’t there to promote the hail mary ballot measure to save Medicaid known as I-185, the regressive tobacco tax.

When the forum shifted to comments and questions from the audience I couldn’t help myself. The last speaker had referenced a line of a poem that transformed his story of literal drowning into a metaphor, so I began by saying how accurate the metaphor of drowning felt, and I asked how we get that narrative beyond the room where those in attendance already know how fucked the system is.

I went on to point out that there are people who don’t benefit from that narrative getting out, like a Governor who wants to run for President and supporters of open space bonds. Then I expressed how worried I was that the survival of Medicaid is apparently hinging on this regressive tobacco tax that will disproportionately impact poor people.

After that I thanked the panel and shut up.

I felt compelled to mention Governor Bullock because right before the panel discussion I read this article from Missoula Current. The article is about how Missoula County is bracing for more cuts from the 2019 Legislature. Why? Because Bullock just told them that is what will happen if I-185 doesn’t pass:

In his speech to MACo, the governor mentioned a few priorities for the next legislative session, including apprentice programs, criminal justice reform, and stronger campaign finance laws.

He also wants to provide opportunities for voluntary preschool programs and college and post-secondary education affordability.

Most notable was the conversation around sustaining Medicaid. The governor endorsed passage of the I-185 initiative on November’s ballot, which would use a tobacco tax to increase revenue to preserve Montana’s expanded Medicaid program.

That measure, Bullock said, will affect the “health of our overall budget.”

“I’m not going to sugar coat it from the perspective that I-185 fails to pass, we’re going to be in for a tough session,” he said. “If you thought cuts in the last special session were difficult, I think you should brace, unfortunately, for even more.”

Yes, threatening more economic pain and cuts and confusion if I-185 doesn’t pass–which will lead to more hospitalizations and trauma and actual death–is definitely not sugar coating it.

But don’t be fooled, the sugar coating will come when this duplicitous politician pivots to other audiences, like those in Iowa, to market himself as some brilliant Democrat Governor who survived the state-wide electoral slaughter in a red state.

All that said, I’m voting for I-185. Knowing what I know, I can’t not vote for I-185.

But that won’t stop me from openly despising all the political players who have put an already inadequate mental health system into total crises.

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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8 Responses to Yeah, What Safety Net?

  1. petetalbot says:

    It’s I-185, William, but I sincerely appreciate the subject matter here.

  2. Eric says:

    I have no problem with ballot initiatives, but this one is just wrong IMO because first, it’s targeting a minority of people for an extra tax. I don’t smoke, but I don’t feel like punishing smokers either. The smokers I know are pretty much happy to just hurt themselves.

    Once you open the door here, there are lots of other classes of people to go after next.
    How about a diaper tax on new Mommies? After all, if you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t have children. How about a tax on car tires? If you don’t like the tax, don’t drive. It’s a slippery slope.

    Second, if they want to promote a ballot initiative to increase Medicaid, do a ballot initiative about Medicaid. Don’t disguise it as something it’s not.

    Am I being unreasonable in my criticism?

    I was really happy though, to see Gov Bullock on TV this AM doing a commercial for I-185 though, because the mere sight of him should help defeat it.

  3. Big Swede says:

    Sin taxes always pull in less revenues than they project. Look to the CO pot revenue as the most current example.

    I have a friend who’s father bragged that once they raised the cig tax years ago he purchased a tobacco roller machine. He’d go to the Res and buy non taxed bulk tobacco, sit at his kitchen table and roll fifty at a time while bragging about the all money he saved.

    Expect many to do the same if I-185 passes. Coloradans just grew their own.

    • petetalbot says:

      “Colorado has harvested half a billion dollars in taxes and fees since it legalized recreational weed,” reports CNN Money. Hardly chump change, Swede.

  4. I roll my own smokes, so spend around $9 a week on cigs…compared to the $7 a pack most people pay a day.

    If spending $11 on my smokes means some old person can stay in their nursing home, I’ll pay it.

    I wish the state would come up with some other ways to pay for what we need, but I guess I’ll have to step up by voting for I-185.

    I’m not a fan of the initiative, but I can see how it helps the state so I’ll pay more.

    Again, I’m not a big fan of taxing smokes by $2 a pack more. I know there are other revenue options for Montana, such as legalizing marijuana. I also know that most of the supposed revenues that I-185 will generate won’t come about for years. Next year is when Obamacare is set to expire if the legislature doesn’t vote to expand it, and I know there are lots of republican legislators that want to see it die. Obamacare will need money next year, but I-185, even if it passes, won’t be able to supply it next year.

    That said, one of the biggest selling points of I-185, and one not being talked up near enough, is the fact that seriously helps with getting us the $500 million federal matching funds to continue Obamacare in MT. Again, that expansion of Obamacare won’t happen if the GOP legislature doesn’t vote for it. If I-185 passes, the state will still be short of money to expand Obamacare. But if it doesn’t pass, the state will be a lot more short.

    Legislators really need to sit down and come up with other revenue ideas besides sales taxes and taxes on the poor. Spending cuts should also be considered. Brian Schweitzer took a fine-toothed comb to the state budget and eliminated a lot of useless spending. We need more of that.

    • Eric says:

      The same Gov BS that hired an extra 1000 state employees, and increased State spending 25%? I love revisionist history!

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