© 2017 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

In our last post, we discussed Representative Greg Hertz’s bill HB375, proposing to fund TRIBALLY CONTROLLED SCHOOLS, which as we noted, is not a state responsibility or obligation.

Today we’d like to focus on yet another bill along the same vein, HB185 introduced by Democrats Shane Morigeau, John Fleming, and Dan Salomon, among others:

“AN ACT ESTABLISHING A GRANT PROGRAM TO REDUCE OR ELIMINATE TUITION COSTS FOR CERTAIN POST SECONDARY PROGRAMS; AUTHORIZING THE BOARD OF  REGENTS TO ADMINISTER THE PROGRAM; PROVIDING PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS INCLUDING STUDENT ELIGIBILITY; PROVIDING AN APPROPRIATION; AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, while Lake County struggles to stay financially afloat, and the state of Montana is in the midst of a budget crisis, these local representatives and others are proposing to spend $2 million, make that $1 per year to:

“increase college affordability and attainment for and decrease the amount of college debt incurred by Montana residents who utilize community and tribal colleges and 2-year institutions of the Montana university system.”

Tribal Colleges are tribally-controlled and federally funded, and each reservation in Montana has one.  As stated in our previous article, the Montana Constitution prohibits expenditures to “private corporations not under the control of the state.

Here are some conservative FEDERAL FUNDING figures for tribal colleges over a 9 year period (source usaspending.gov):

$78 million     Blackfeet Community College
$42 million     Crow – Little Big Horn College
$46 million     Fort Belknap – Aaniiih Nakoda College
$47 million     Fort Peck Community College
$36 million     Northern Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife College
$59 million     Rocky Boy Stone Child College
$130 million   Salish and Kootenai College

Folks this stuff is just the tip of the iceberg……..

This information begs the question, does Montana already provide any funds to these colleges, and if so how much annually,  and for what purposes?

HB185 also adds a special notification section to the bill leaving no doubt as to whom the major beneficiaries of the state’s largess will likely be:

“NEW SECTION. Section 5. Notification to tribal governments. The secretary of state shall send a copy of [this act] to each tribal government located on the seven Montana reservations and to the Little Shell Chippewa tribe.”

Did we miss the section in the bill that “required” Secretary of State notification of all of the other 2 year colleges in Montana?  Nope.

The fiscal note for the bill currently shows that the expenditures for this bill would be $8,000,000 over the next four years, however the sponsor of the bill, Shane Morigeau, has submitted a rebuttal to the fiscal note, instead preferring to think that this legislation would have a minimal effect on the state’s general fund ($1) per year.

If that is the case, why is a bill necessary at all?

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that it is more likely that the goal of minimizing the financial impact while passing the bill is to cement this proposal into law, and in a convoluted way, bind future legislatures to funding it.

Take a look yourself, and then decide.

HB 185
HB 185 Fiscal Note
HB 185 Fiscal Note Rebuttal by Sponsor

To add insult to injury, Section 1 of the New Act specifies:

Short title.  [Sections 1 through 3] may be cited as the “Montana Promise Act”.

While this legislation is wrapped up in “warm and fuzzy”, “cultural”,  feel good language, the only “promise” is that it will drain Montana taxpayers of their hard earned money while promising to be the “act that keeps on giving”, especially if upward college tuition trends continue.

Remember also that once the Tribes get a hold of state money, there is no requirement that they be accountable to the state for the expenditure of state funds.

Note:  This bill passed handily in the house, but it is not too late to stop it in the Senate. Please contact the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee to let them know what you think.  Chairman of the committee?  Dan Salomon. 

 

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