As a veteran, I am honored that this country is so dedicated to supporting those of us who have served. It’s clear that this nation’s commitment to help our veterans is natural and automatic. It’s part of our creed, built into our culture and is one of many things that makes America so great.
It’s unfortunate when this instinct is taken advantage of by special interests who use veterans as political props to sway voters to support bad laws. This is exactly what’s happening in Montana with Ballot Initiative 185.
The supporters of I-185 just released a television advertisement that states, “To serve those who served us, vote yes on I-185.” This is downright offensive. I-185 claims to help veterans, but it’s just about money.
I-185 would raise $74 million per year in new tax revenue. Based on proponents’ ads, you’d think that veterans’ services were allocated a significant chunk of that funding, but that’s just not the case. I-185 caps funding for veterans’ services at no more than $2 million per year. That comes out to less than 4 percent — a drop in the bucket — and a fact that runs contrary to the big claims I-185’s backers make about helping veterans.
Veterans won’t get much of this new revenue, but politicians and hospital corporations would cash in.
To be clear, I-185 does not increase funding for Medicare or address traditional Medicaid. What it does do is make Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program permanent.
Medicaid Expansion in Montana was originally passed in 2015 on a trial basis, with a sunset date in 2019. This sunset provision was designed to provide our Legislators with an opportunity to evaluate the program and make sure it was working for Montana. Medicaid Expansion has turned out to be nearly twice as expensive as originally projected, but I-185 would lock the existing program into place, bypassing planned legislative evaluations and avoiding much needed cost controls. Without needed reform, Montanans could end up paying even more in coming years.
Of the $74 million in new tax revenues generated by I-185, no more than $26 million is allocated to fund Medicaid Expansion. But, there’s one glaring problem: the cost to fund Medicaid Expansion is projected to be more than $60 million per year. This means that all Montana taxpayers will be left on the hook to cover the $34 million unfunded liability needed to pay for Medicaid Expansion.
This is happening because the special interests behind I-185 are trying to game the system. By eliminating the sunset date from Medicaid Expansion, they lock this program in place, bypass the Legislature’s planned oversight and create a permanent statutory appropriation. That means I-185 would create a permanent spending obligation for whatever amount is necessary to fund Medicaid Expansion.
In the words of the Montana Legislative Services Division, “[I]t would be the actions of the people that would lead to the appropriation of state general fund money for an indefinite amount of time and for an indefinite amount.”
Translation: I-185 is a blank check.
Who does I-185 benefit? It’s certainly not the hard-working Montanans who will see more of their money head to Helena, or veterans, who will see just pennies from every dollar of the new tax revenues. The real winners are the hospital corporations supporting I-185, which get revenue from providing services to Medicaid Expansion enrollees, and the state government, which gets more of our money to spend.
Let’s be honest. I-185 isn’t about helping veterans. Those claims made by the proponents are the worst kind of political pandering.
In the Marine Corps, I learned how to stand up, look someone in their eyeballs, and say exactly what I meant, whether the person would like it or not. That is an important lesson the backers of I-185 should learn.
Veterans’ services should always be fully funded, but we don’t need to give millions to hospital corporations, raise taxes on hardworking Montanans or create a massive unfunded liability to do this. Tell the special interests backing I-185 that veterans should not be used as political props to raise taxes and grow government. Join me and my fellow veterans and vote no on I-185.