GREAT FALLS – Montana voters are rejecting ballot measures to extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, funded by a tobacco-tax increase, and to impose new water-treatment regulations on new hard-rock mines.
In returns early Wednesday, Initiative 185, the Medicaid-tobacco tax measure was trailing by 37,000 votes, with 55 percent of voters saying “no” to the proposal.
The water treatment-mining measure trailed by an even larger margin, 59 percent to 41 percent, or 68,000 votes.
Thousands of votes have yet to be counted in several of Montana’s major cities, but it’s highly unlikely those votes will change the outcome of either measure. More than 85 percent of the votes in Montana had been counted as of Wednesday morning.
The campaigns for both ballot measures attracted millions of dollars in spending – mostly by the opponents.
Two national tobacco firms spent more than $17 million to defeat I-185, which would have raised state cigarette taxes by $2 a pack and taxes on other tobacco products by 67 percent.
Money from the tax would have helped finance the state share of Medicaid expansion, which currently provides government-funded health coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income adults in Montana. The federal government covers 90 percent of its cost.
I-185 also would have made permanent the Medicaid expansion program, which is scheduled to expire next June.
Now, Montana’s 2019 Legislature must decide the fate of Medicaid expansion.
Hospitals and other health-care groups, organized labor and other organizations spent more than $8 million on behalf of I-185, which also had the support of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
I-186 would have required any new hard-rock mine to have a cleanup plan that did not require “perpetual treatment” of polluted water from the mine site.
The mining industry in Montana fought the measure, arguing it would create a legal morass that would make new mining projects difficult, if not impossible, to gain approval. Several Montana mining companies and the Montana Mining Association spent more than $5 million to defeat I-186.
Trout Unlimited led the effort to place I-186 on the ballot.
I-186 lost in almost every county. As of Wednesday morning, it led in only three: Missoula, Gallatin and Park.
I-185 didn’t fare much better, geographically. It was winning in only five counties Wednesday morning: Missoula, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Glacier and Silver Bow.
Voters also approved two other lower-profile ballot measures.
The 6-Mill Levy, which helps fund the state university system and faces a public vote every 10 years, was passing easily Wednesday with 61 percent of the vote.
Voters also are approving Legislative Referendum 129, which prohibits organizations or people from picking up and delivering someone else’s absentee ballot. It was passing with 63 percent of the vote.
-Mike Dennison reporting for MTN News