Fiscal impact of Medicaid initiative questioned

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Attorney General Tim Fox is asking the state Supreme Court to order a new fiscal note for a ballot initiative that seeks to expand the Medicaid program in Montana.

Fox said he agrees with the initiative's opponents who say the fiscal note prepared by the state budget director wrongly includes $100 million in federal revenue unrelated to the implementation of Initiative 170.

Gov. Steve Bullock disagrees. He filed a friend of the court brief Tuesday that says the purpose of the Healthy Montana Initiative is to "fully utilize available federal funds to provide health coverage for uninsured Montanans." Because the initiative calls for the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid and creates a special account for the funding, the fiscal note must include all the federal funding for medical care, he said.

Bullock argues that the opponents' petition should be denied because raising the issue through litigation after supporters have begun gathering signatures undermines the integrity of the ballot initiative process. He also says the fiscal note is accurate and the fiscal statement fairly describes the impacts of the initiative.

Opponents should have raised the issue of the fiscal note while the attorney general's office was reviewing the proposed ballot statements, Bullock said.

The attorney general's office said the initiative was certified for collecting signatures March 10, and the office learned the fiscal note was incorrect three days later.

Because the fiscal note was incorrect, the ballot initiative's fiscal statement is incorrect, Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion wrote.

Fox said his office is not allowed to produce its own fiscal analysis.

"Although a court-ordered rewrite of the fiscal statement invalidates any signed petitions gathered to date," Bennion wrote, "the magnitude of the inaccuracy here is too significant to ignore."

A separate ballot initiative seeks to bar Montana from funding or enforcing the Affordable Care Act.

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