The Montana House voted 59-41 Friday to restore full funding to the state-owned Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls. All 32 Democrats joined 27 Republicans – including the nine Republicans representing northwest Montana – to support the amendment.
A proposal to privatize operations at the 115-year-old home, as the Republican-controlled Legislature looks for ways to reduce state spending, has drawn sharp criticism from the union representing employees there, and Democrats including Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Many Columbia Falls residents are also concerned privatization could lead to a loss of jobs.
Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, proposed privatizing the Columbia Falls facility based on a report showing the Eastern Montana Veterans’ Home, in Glendive, operates at a lower cost to the state due in part to its management by a private company.
According to reports by Lee Newspapers, the amendment restoring $3 million for the Veterans’ Home was the only one introduced by Democrats during budget deliberations that gained sufficient support from the GOP to pass.
Reached Monday, Joren Underdahl, superintendent of the Veterans’ Home, said he was encouraged by the vote, but noted several hurdles remain as the Legislature wrangles over the state budget for the next six weeks.
“We appreciate the local support from our Flathead representatives,” Underdahl said. “We still have the Senate ahead of us so it’s not a done deal.”
“We’re hopeful,” he added. “Even if it goes to an interim study our funding will remain intact for the biennium.”
A rally at 2 p.m. Saturday is scheduled in support of the State Veterans’ Home by those opposed to its privatization.
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