Tester talks about layoffs, federal budget in Butte

Montana Standard

by Justin Post

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., blamed a “political theater” in Washington, D.C., for deep cuts in the federal budget that led to layoffs earlier this week at the National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte.

The nonprofit laid off 20 people, including nine from its Butte headquarters after a program managed by the organization was axed from the federal budget.

The layoffs followed the elimination of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, or ATTRA, which had been allocated

$2.8 million last fiscal year. NCAT had managed the nationwide program for more than 25 years.

During a Saturday visit to Butte, Tester told The Montana Standard that he’s concerned about the ATTRA cuts and that he hopes lawmakers will take a closer look next week at the federal budget.

“My concern is you dismantle programs like that, and it’s going to be very, very difficult to get them back up and running,” he said.

Entitlements and military budgets must be evaluated as well, rather than cutting all discretionary funds: About 12 percent of the budget, Tester said.

Those discretionary funds impact not only NCAT, but also community health centers, Pell grants, Head Start programs and low-income housing.

Tester said he favors a close review of the entire budget to manage short- and long-term spending, rather than blanket cuts.

“It can be done, and it can be done with a minimal amount of pain instead of an extreme amount of pain with the draconian cuts that were proposed by the House,” the senator said.

Some in Washington have called for a government shutdown if massive cuts aren’t made, which Tester described as a “crazy attitude.”

“It’s a silly thing to do, and it doesn’t move the country forward,” he said.

When asked about funding for MSE Technologies, another Butte outfit dependent on federal money that also has faced layoffs in recent years, the senator said “everything’s going to be on the table, and we have to find out how to minimize those problems.”

During his Butte visit Saturday, Tester met with the Southwest Montana Central Labor Council before meeting Air Force Academy appointee Krista Stone of Butte.

More than 20 labor leaders turned out during the labor council meeting to voice concerns ranging from unsafe trucks crossing into the United States from Mexico to the possibility of relocating Butte’s U.S. Postal Service mail processing center to Great Falls.

Tester said he receives hundreds of items of correspondence from Montanans every day, and thanked the labor groups for sharing their thoughts.

“They want to get involved, and they want to make sure their opinion is heard, and this is all very, very important as to how our government runs,” he said.