The North Dakota House Finance and Tax Committee has changed a bill so that it will now cut state funding for Meals on Wheels and other services that help senior citizens across the state. The amendment which adds sections to a bill completely unrelated to senior care would cut $439,844.08 per year and capped at $3.5 million in state matching funds from senior citizen services. Because this change comes in the form of an amendment and not a stand alone bill, the cut to senior citizen services did not receive a public hearing. I imagine legislators like Rep. Craig Headland, who offered the amendment, simply did not want to hear from concerned citizens about how their actions would harm the elderly in the state.
SB 2273, originally introduced by Senator Jim Dotzenrod, was turned into a study by the Senate and passed unanimously. The House Finance and Tax Committee then heard the bill on March 7th. On March 8th, one day after the hearing, the bill received a DO NOT PASS. But the bill wouldn’t receive a vote on the House floor. Instead nearly two full weeks later, March 21st, Rep. Headland brought it back to committee, offered his amendment, and completely changed the bill’s intent in order to pursue a local attack on senior citizens and Meals on Wheels. The bill then received a DO PASS on a party line vote.
Why hold this simple study with a DO NOT PASS recommendation for two weeks? Was this plan to cut services to senior citizens in the works for some time and people like Craig Headland and Al Carlson finally found a vehicle to act on it? Was this their preferred bill because the original was offered by a Democrat? If they wanted to do this all along, why wouldn’t they offer this in a bill and hold a public hearing? How brave.
To be clear, this is not a reduction in any proposed increase over the next biennium. According to staff in the Tax Department, this is a cut to the current funding level of 2016 to programs which assist our state’s elderly. It is yet another attempt to balance the budget on the backs of senior citizens. It is similar to what we saw in President Trump’s proposed budget last week. On Saturday, I wrote about this being a part of the GOP platform across the country.
House leadership is trying to sneak one by you in North Dakota. Rep. Headland should be ashamed of himself and this cowardly move to place the budget burden on seniors when he was one of the architects to cut the oil tax which cost the state $15 million per month according to the nonpartisan Legislative Council. You need to ask these legislators some questions about their priorities and demand answers.