I-185, the Healthy Montana Initiative, was submitted statewide to all Montana counties’ Clerk & Recorders Offices on Friday, June 22, 2018, with more than 42,000 signatures, and those signatures are now in the process of being verified. Since only 25,468 signatures were needed with a sufficient number from each of a minimum of 34 house districts, it is very likely that the initiative will be accepted and then placed on this fall’s ballot at the general election.
If passed, the Initiative would approve a $2 per pack tax increase on cigarettes and 33 percent tax on other tobacco products, including vaping devices, with the increased funds being designated to help make Medicaid Expansion permanent in the State of Montana and to provide funding for several other health related programs.
Sponsored by the Montana Hospital Association and supported by the American Cancer Association and others, Montana Women Voters worked to coordinate the signature gathering phase. Response to the initiative was overwhelmingly positive, and the 42,000 plus signatures were gathered in less than 2 months.
However, there is a contingent of Republican legislators who are calling for a special session of the legislation to place their own referenda on the ballot to counteract I-185, which would call for a much lesser tax on tobacco products, a work requirement for Medicaid recipients, and possible means testing in order to qualify for benefits, reducing vastly the number of clients that would be able to participate in the program. They are currently polling all legislative members and, should a simple majority of the legislators vote “yes”, the special session would start Monday, July 16th, at a cost of approximately $90,000 per day to taxpayers.
This effort is wrong on so many levels. First, to repress initiatives submitted by the people is in direct violation of our Constitution and is also a prime example of dark money at work in our state. We, as residents of Montana, have the right to be involved in our government and initiatives are one of the few ways that the common person can have direct input.
And, furthermore, efforts that work to reduce participation in Medicaid Expansion serves as a threat to keeping the doors open of our rural critical access hospitals in both Mineral and Sanders counties. Since the inception of this program, more of the patients who have been seen at our ERs have medical coverage, resulting in the hospitals not having to write off these costs as “bad debts” as they had done previously.
Lastly, the costs of another special session will be passed on to the taxpayers. And since deadlines for filing initiatives have been missed, Montana counties could be forced to come up with the funds to pay for another election later, focused solely on this Republican sponsored alternative.
Call your legislators and request that they resist this effort. Encourage them to make decisions that are based on what is truly best for our people and our state — and ask them to listen to their constituents. Then encourage them to support I-185 in November!
Diane Magone, of Superior, is the Democratic candidate in House District 14.