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Judging by the first two weeks of the 2017 legislative session, Montanans should brace for a reduction in state services over the next two years.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed $74 million in spending cuts over the next biennium to balance the budget and build the state’s cash reserves back up to $300 million.

The Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature want to increase that figure to $120 million. And it appears the Office of Public Instruction and the Department of Public Health and Human Services, both of which do some of our state government's most important work, are likely to take the biggest hits.

Our legislators have some very tough decisions to make in the coming weeks. And no matter what they end up doing, someone is going to be unhappy about it.

But we hope they will put their personal and political agendas aside and do what they genuinely think is best for everyday Montanans. Because the people of Montana will have to live with those decisions long after the session is over. 

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A Helena-based nonprofit is stepping up to fulfill the state’s promise to hundreds of Montana students.

After the STEM scholarship program created by the Montana Legislature announced to 750 students that it didn’t have the funds to pay for their spring 2017 awards, Reach Higher Montana provided a $232,000 grant to help 301 of them. The grant funding will be awarded to the students who need it most, which will be determined by officials with the Montana University System.

The STEM scholarships were supposed to be funded with revenue from the Montana Lottery and administered by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. However, the lottery didn’t bring in enough to pay for the awards this year.

An OCHE official is urging the Legislature to suspend awarding scholarships until the account that funds them has a secure revenue stream, which seems like a good long-term solution to consider. 

But we’re grateful that Reach Higher Montana was able to turn this disappointing situation around for so many Montana students right now. 

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