In a miraculous turn of events on Jan. 12, Gov. Steve Bullock announced in his latest smoke and mirrors act he had magically pulled $10 million dollars out of his hat for road projects. This $10 million is supposedly a Medicaid funding match from the federal government that happened to appear the same day the Montana Contractors’ Association was in town for a convention. The glaring question that isn’t being asked is: Why is the governor taking money away from a sick and vulnerable population? Is this the real short-term solution?
Medicaid is the health insurance program that takes care of our most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, disabled, indigent and blind. This Medicaid money is now being directed toward a transportation funding budget crisis to put projects back on track that were postponed after the election. However, there was already a solution being proposed by the Republican-led House of Representatives, House Bill 203, that would not put a vulnerable constituency at risk. Instead of working with lawmakers to pass this legislation the executive office worked to circumvent them with its own “solution.”
The governor’s damage with these gimmicks causes an enormous problem. Not only were all Montanans’ safety put at risk when the road and bridge construction projects were put on hold, but families were put out of work right before Christmas. Now, our disadvantaged citizens that cannot afford health insurance are the next victims of the governor’s “shining example” of leadership.
Last week, Director Tooley with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) delivered testimony to the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee confirming what the Legislature has been saying all along. MDT has known about a serious budget shortfall well before it became a crisis, and neither the governor nor the director had a serious plan for long-term infrastructure projects.
Director Tooley declined to propose a solution to the committee, saying the executive office and the department do not have a sense of what citizens of Montana want for a solution like the Legislature does. He deferred to the Legislature, making it apparent that political expediency and sound bites seem to be the preferred solutions coming out of the executive office instead of leadership.
Montana is at a turning point. State government has declining revenues yet government continues to grow out of control with no accountability. This is not the time to try to win the headline of the day or pander to special interests. This is the time to lead by proposing real long-term solutions for serious problems that affect the safety and livelihoods of families of our great state.
Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, is a member of the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee; Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, is a member of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
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