(UM Legislative News Service) The House Appropriations Committee opened public testimony Thursday on House Bill 2, which is the bill that sets the budget for state agencies.

Some of the most controversial changes come from the subcommittee on the Department of Public Health and Human Services, which cut more than 100 full-time equivalent positions from the agency.

Director of DPHHS Sheila Hogan said the cuts will especially hurt rural areas where it’s difficult to find qualified people to do skill-intensive jobs.

“Sure the positions can be cut, but the work remains, and that is where the ripple effect occurs. It impacts those receiving services and how we deliver those services,” Hogan said.

Vice-chair of the committee, Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, said since the jobs have been empty for over a year, there will not be a reduction in services offered by the otherwise large department. He also said if DPHHS was worried about cuts to specific agencies, like vocational rehabilitation, then they should have been working with the Legislature before the cuts were suggested.

“The number 100 is thrown out as a large number, but it has 3,300, I believe, or 3,500 employees,” Jones said. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the legislative side that doesn’t want to be effective or efficient, but we can only do that when the agencies speak to us.”

Co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, says the bill will be voted on Monday after all five sections of the bill have had a public hearing.

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