Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton)

Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton)

I read with interest the session wrap-up this week from Speaker Hertz.

Conspicuously absent were the major successes for Montana that must be noted and celebrated by all conservatives regardless of party politics. Conservative solutions for Medicaid expansion and reform, major school choice policy and a fiscal framework for infrastructure will deliver huge dividends for our constituents.

When Medicaid was originally expanded in 2015, the sunset date was included to coincide with a potential change of power in Washington DC.

While that power shift did occur and Republicans took control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and the Presidency, Congress failed to deliver on its promise to address the Affordable Care Act. Partially as a result of that broken promise, Democrats have retaken control of the U.S. House and the President has stated publicly that there will be no movement on healthcare until after the 2020 elections.

Faced with the stark reality that no help was coming from the federal government, the 2019 legislature was left to reform and build integrity into the only option available to the nearly 100,000 Montanans searching for affordable healthcare, addiction and mental health services and treatment for chronic conditions.

A major overhaul was done to the existing Medicaid Expansion program to ensure effective work requirements and reasonable premiums payments were included. An asset test was enacted so that individuals with significant financial worth would not qualify for the program. And Montana residency was made a firm requirement for qualification. Montanans are still justifiably divided on the issue of Medicaid but without a major change at the federal level there is no real path to lower healthcare costs and access to medical care.

The new Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act will allow our rural hospitals to remain viable and will slow the growth of healthcare premium growth in our state. Until the U.S. Congress displays the political will to address the Affordable Care Act, the reform of Medicaid Expansion is the right solution for Montana.

School choice has been a topic of discussion in the Montana legislature since my first session in 2013, with precious little to show for the effort.

Career and technical education received lip service while worker shortages continued to grow in industries requiring skilled tradesmen. Meanwhile the glut of college educated candidates for every entry level professional opening would indicate that our existing approach to post-secondary education is not balanced with the needs of our expanding economy.

We have long recognized that a four-year college degree is not right for every high school graduate but our educational model has not been adjusted to incorporate the feedback from the labor markets. Several bills were passed this session to address this workforce imbalance.

Expanded options in the proficiency learning program were enacted along with a revision to the community college funding formula, providing middle school, high school and post-secondary students with greater opportunity to pursue experiential, work related training that aligns with their chosen technical career path. Some of the costs associated with this path and the expanded number of programs and institutions can now be recovered by the student or the student’s family.

Infrastructure funding has also been a major point of contention in every legislative session in which I served. Some legislators argued over which infrastructure projects to fund while others argued over the best monetary strategy to use to pay for the projects.

These two arguments became entwined and major infrastructure needs remained unfunded for many years. Several forward-thinking legislators remedied the situation this session by separating the two arguments and creating a lasting infrastructure framework, based on sound fiscal policy, for funding major projects. No longer will political arguments control the basic fiscal question of what the state can afford to fund in infrastructure needs.

So, congratulations to the legislators who set party politics aside to accomplish significant and lasting policy solutions for the citizens of our great state!

— Republican Nancy Ballance, HD87, House Appropriations Chairman, 406-363-8416