Governor Spares Planned Cuts for Disabled Services

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday that he is sparing cuts to disabled services — promised as part of the Land Board’s approval of an $85 million coal lease — and is doing so even if the money doesn’t come in from Arch Coal Inc.

Schweitzer said he will spare about $600,000 in proposed cuts to services aimed at helping those with disabilities remain in their communities. But the governor said he has not yet made any decisions on the bulk of the $40 million in proposed cuts to state government.

Arch offered the state $85 million for 500 million tons of state-owned coal in southeastern Montana. The state accepted it last week in a split vote by Montana’s five statewide elected officeholders.

Approval came even amid staunch protest from environmentalists who argue it will ruin a pristine landscape and increase global warming.

Arch representative were pleased after the decision, and the company has not given any indication it won’t make the upfront payment as promised.

“I think the likelihood is very high this money will arrive within the next 30 days,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

But the governor said he will stick with his decision to spare the cuts for disabled services even if the company were to decide to back out of the deal.

The one-time payment from Arch is not the only factor he is weighing.

“We are not looking for money that just gets us through spring break,” Schweitzer said. “We are trying to build a budget that gets us through the next few years.”

Schweitzer didn’t indicate whether that means the biggest of the proposed cuts to such areas as education will still go through. Those decisions would be made in the coming weeks, he said.

Another area in the Department of Public Health and Human Services that has drawn scrutiny is a proposal to forgo provider rate increases for doctors, nursing homes and others who provide care to the needy.

Schweitzer seemed to indicate that he may be sticking with a plan to chop that funding. The Democrat said that the “so-called national health care bill” quickly becoming law cuts federal payments, making it less likely the state would decide to subsidize them more.

But then later, he said no final decision on any of the proposed cuts has been made.

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