Speaker of the House, Rep. Austin Knudsen

Speaker of the House, Rep. Austin Knudsen is shown in this file photo.

Thom Bridge,thom.bridge@helenair.com

GREAT FALLS — Montana's House speaker is defending pending budget cuts that critics say will harm health services and education across the state.

Republican Speaker Austin Knudsen tells the Great Falls Tribune the cuts are supposed to reduce the size of state government in lean economic times.

State revenue fell short of forecasts, prompting $97 million in spending cuts that begin next month under a bill passed earlier this year.

Last week, community health providers said the cuts would reduce services offered to elderly and disabled Medicaid patients. The Office of Public Instruction will lose at least $19 million over two years. Sixteen state workers will lose their jobs.

Knudsen says Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's staff had input on the bill.

Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel blames Republican lawmakers for rejecting the governor's tax increases and adopting an inflated revenue estimate.

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