Montana Senate debates $10 billion state budget, kills amendments

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, was not able to convince senators to appropriate $7.3 million to increase the wages of those who care for disabled and elderly Montanans. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – All day Monday, Montana senators debated the state’s more than $10 billion budget.

House Bill 2, the state’s main budget bill, passed the House 58-40 last week before moving to the Senate.

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, carried one of the more expensive amendments Monday that would have added a dollar an hour per year to the wages of direct care workers who care for seniors and disabled Montanans. The Legislature oversees those wages because they are funded by the state-run Medicaid program.

That amendment failed, as did similar ones throughout the day.

“We have to recognize that there are a lot of people left on the table that are not going to get their needs met,” Caferro said. “And I think if this doesn’t get fixed down the road, we’re going to find in the next two years that we’ll be hearing from people in our districts.”

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, said programs like these are worthy, “but we have to come and say fiscal realities have to hit in some time. Where are you going to cut? Where are you going to offset?”

Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork, said multiple times that the money in the budget for the Department of Public Health and Human Services is flexible, because the agency can decide something’s a priority, then put money into that program.

Caferro’s direct-care wage amendment would have cost the state around $7.3 million.

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.