As a special session of the Montana Legislature appears imminent, we must find responsible, bipartisan solutions to our budget situation.

If we maintain that we have no choice but to continue making cuts, “the harsh reality” my fellow lawmaker, Sen. Llew Jones referenced in his Sept. 13 guest opinion, will be harshest for the most vulnerable in our communities. Simply accepting these cuts and hoping for change is not a solution, nor is it a fiscally or morally sound decision. We must work together to create policies that allow Montanans to keep more of their hard-earned money, stabilize our revenues, and protect our families.

Montana has the nation’s highest child and teen mortality rates. We have had the nation’s highest suicide rates for more than 40 years. As one of the larger demographics in Montana, too many of our elderly live in poverty and die younger than people in other states. Too many Montanans with disabilities have no access to services and support. These realities are unacceptable. We simply cannot continue to ask those who suffer most to wait for improved market trends. It is time that those from out of state and the super-wealthy paid their fair share.

If there has been “a deferral of business income tax receipts as payers wait to see if the Trump tax package has legs” as Jones claimed, should we eliminate services for vulnerable children, or should we ask those businesses to fulfill their obligations?

If, as Jones stated, “there has been a reduction of capital gains taxes collected,” should we eliminate the services that enable Montanans with disabilities to shower, dress, and eat — or should we ask multi-millionaires to help out?

Should we force our elderly to forego vital medication or should we ask people who visit our state to pay slightly more for rental cars?

Do we force those with developmental and mental disabilities into costly institutions – or onto the street – or should we ask wealthy people who live out of state pay a little bit more to enjoy their luxury vacation homes?

Do we eliminate funding for our rural hospitals or do we ask app market corporations like Uber, Airbnb and Amazon, to commit to helping our rural hospitals stay open?

Kansas caution

a cautionary tale about the dangers of slashing critical programs, look no further than the state of Kansas, where drastic cuts were made in 2012. In addition to inflicting immense human suffering, the cuts resulted in a budget deficit of roughly $889 million. The state’s credit rating dropped, and job creation and economic growth are now slower in Kansas than the rest of the nation. If we follow suit, we risk incurring the same, and when will shift to the local level due to increased need for law enforcement, court services and jails. If we eliminate critical services and programs that maintain legal safety standards we also risk the inevitability of expensive lawsuits. Kansas is proof that when you fail to invest in an ounce of prevention, you pay for more than a pound of cure.

When our budget is based on an outdated system that provides too much advantage and too little responsibility for the wealthiest and places an impossible burden on hard-working Montanans that prevents us from meeting our responsibilities and hinders Montana’s long-term financial and overall health, it is time to develop a fairer, more diversified tax system and demand the end of tax cuts for the wealthy and those from out of state. I encourage all Montanans who agree to ask your legislators to work together to create a fairer, more compassionate and fiscally responsible future for our state.

Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, is the ranking minority legislator on the House Health and Human Services Committee.

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