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House committee says ‘no’ to pay hike for work with seniors

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – The Montana House Appropriations Committee is nearly done ironing out amendments to House Bill 2, or the main budget bill.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula, proposed one of those amendments Friday. That amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services budget would have increased wages for those who work directly with seniors and people with developmental disabilities.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula

The motion failed on an 11-11 vote, with two Republicans, Rep. Jon Knokey, R-Bozeman, and Jimmy Patelis, R-Billings, hopping on board with the Democrats in favor of the amendment.

“This is costly, I will not deny it. But I believe we have a responsibility to every citizen in Montana to find the money to improve the wages of our direct care workers,” Ryan said.

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, said he appreciates the light the amendment shines on provider rates and direct care wages, “but to just pull $61 million out of that ending fund balance, and then pretend that we have some way to heal that before we get out of here with a budget that’s balanced and acceptable is in a lot of ways erroneous.”

Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said when it comes to funding certain programs and amendments, like the direct care workers wage amendment, she’d like to ask, “where would you like me to take the money from? Education? Incarceration? Other healthcare programs? That’s the challenge.”

Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, who’s also on that committee, said he was frustrated when he brought up strategies to fund some of these programs at the hearing.

One of those was to make some of these amendments to House Bill 2 contingent on the passage of other amendments that would generate revenue. He was asked to put it in a written amendment rather than discussing it in the committee.

“What that indicates to me is that we’re not really interested as a full committee, of really finding solutions,” he said.

House Bill 2 is scheduled to be debated by the full House at the end of next week.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.