The Billings Outpost

Medicaid fight back on

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, doesn’t see a good reason why Montana shouldn’t use federal money available under the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid expansion.

“We’ve all paid into this,” Noonan said. “To get no return on our investment does not seem like a smart move.”

Noonan says the money that would be coming back is money Montanans paid in taxes, and he’ll have to say that a lot in the next few months. He’s going to be the sponsor of Gov. Steve Bullock’s Medicaid expansion proposal, which will use the additional federal funding.

The plan would provide health care to as many as 70,000 uninsured Montanans and would cost the state nothing until 2017. That year, the state would pick up 5 percent of the cost and the federal government would pay 95 percent. After that, the state would eventually pay 10 percent.

With the current system, the state pays a third of the cost. In fiscal year 2013, the total cost of Montana Medicaid exceeded $992 million. State projections say the cost will exceed $1 billion this fiscal year and reach $1.2 billion by 2016 under the current system.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:39

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Local sales tax backers hope it’s their year


It’s awfully early in the 2015 Montana legislative session to be optimistic about anything, but Jani McCall thinks this might just be the year lawmakers finally authorize cities and towns to pursue local sales taxes.

“I think it’s going to be a tough haul,” McCall said, “but I think if there was ever an opportunity to do it, this will be the session to do it.”

McCall is a member of the Billings City Council and current president of the Montana League of Cities and Towns. Before she was elected to the City Council for her first term in 2007, she lobbied the Legislature on behalf of the city, among other clients.

The city had supported local option tax bills before she started lobbying in 2001, McCall said, and it kept plugging away every two years, until 2009. That year, Alec Hansen, then-director of the league of cities and towns, said there was so little interest in the idea that it should be shelved temporarily.

“So we put it to bed for a while, just to let it rest,” McCall said.

This year, cities and towns are ready to tackle the issue again. At the annual league conference in October, member cities voted unanimously to have the league sponsor a local option bill and to push for its passage.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:37

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A long, troubled religious history

By ADRIAN JAWORT - For The Outpost

In an act of sovereignty overriding the First Amendment’s prohibition against any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” the Crow tribal government sponsored a large billboard sign proclaiming “Jesus Christ Is Lord on the Crow Nation” in late December.

While the Crow constitution protects religious freedoms, Sen. Conrad J. (C.J.) Stewart noted it didn’t prevent the tribe from establishing a government-sponsored “Jesus is Lord” resolution.

The sign was a physical manifestation of the resolution introduced by Stewart and passed in 2013 called, “The Crow Tribal Legislature to honor God for his great blessings upon the Crow Tribe and to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of the Crow Indian Reservation.”

“It was something a few of us in the legislative branch had thought about doing after I brought it up when I was first elected to the legislature in 2007,” Stewart said.

Long before the 2013 resolution, however, the Crow Tribe had embraced Pentecostal Christianity because it combined elements that early worshippers deemed compatible with their own traditional beliefs.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:18

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Workers, not jobs, needed here

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Recently, named Billings the third-easiest city in the country in which to find a job. The only problem is that there is a large gap between the number of jobs available and the number of local residents who can fill them.

“That study said that there are 0.9 applicants for every open position,” said Steve Arveschoug of Big Sky Economic Development. “So we don’t even have a full body! In essence, what it is saying is that we have a very tight labor market. There are a lot of factors in play with that, but the need for help is being felt in every layer of the local economy. We have the luxury of being a great place for people to come and find a job, but we also have the challenge of making sure that the talent pool is big enough and has the appropriate skills to meet the needs of current and future employers.”

For the past 18 months, members of the Billings Works Workforce Council have been working to address that disparity. Now, they need the help of local business owners to create a strategic plan for dealing with this problem.

On Jan. 8, the council announced the launch of the Billings Works Survey in which employers can let their business needs be known.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:14

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