I-181 Supporters Say Signatures Submitted

I-181 Supporters Say Signatures Submitted

HELENA — Supporters of Initiative 181, the Montanans for Research and Cures Initiative, that will provide $200 million over 10 years for biomedical research, said Friday they have turned in more than 39,000 signatures ahead of deadline for propositions to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

While elections officials still need to verify the signatures, the number of signatures submitted is more than the 24,175 needed to qualify for the ballot in November, organizers said. Friday was the deadline for the initiatives to be submitted to county elections offices.

“We are proud that so many people signed the petition and stood up for hundreds of thousands of Montanans and their families,” said Randy Gray, former mayor of Great Falls and campaign treasurer.

He said he was not surprised by the high number of signatures.

“Our initial polling showed that 65 percent of Montanans supported the concept,” he said, adding supporters have made a concerted effort for its success.

If approved, the state will issue $20 million in general obligation bonds every year for 10 years for specialized research in Montana. The initiative requests that the Montana Legislature appropriate the proceeds of the bonds to pay for the program.

It will create a Montana Biomedical Research Authority which will award grants for scientific research in the state of Montana. An independent panel of doctors, scientists, nurses and patient advocates will decide which organizations receive research grants.

Emily Dean, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, said county elections must verify the signatures and turn them over to the state by July 15 to qualify for the ballot. She said there is usually a quick turnaround before they are approved.

Initiative181 will fund Montana-based biomedical research into brain diseases, disorders and mental illnesses — including but not limited to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, autism, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, ALS, depression, addictive disorders and schizophrenia, as well as other diseases such as diabetes and cancer, supporters said.

Supporters include the Alzheimer’s Association- Montana Chapter, the National MS Society-Greater Northwest Chapter, the Montana Parkinson’s Foundation, the Montana Credit Union Network, Benefis Health System, the Great Falls Development Authority, and Anderson ZurMuehlen Accounting.

But some are opposed.

In May, the AFL-CIO executive board opposed the measure, saying the $200 million bond proposal could be abused by special interests and hinder the state Legislature’s ability to invest in infrastructure projects in 2017.

Bob Story, a former state lawmaker who is now executive director of the Montana Taxpayers Association, said in an earlier interview his organization would be opposed to the proposal.

“We wouldn’t support statewide bonding, especially for research. It’s a risky proposition we would not get a cash flow return on it,” he said.

Recently, a member of the state Legislative Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee asked if 181 was constitutional and if the state Legislature could be held to the terms of the initiative.

Gray said Friday that supporters believe it will pass constitutional muster.

Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, has called it “a smart solution that saves taxpayer dollars in the long run, and I’m proud to support this investment in Montana’s future.”

All grants funded by this measure would be awarded to researchers and institutions within Montana and detailed annual financial audits from an independent, certified public accounting firm would be required, and made publicly available, to ensure strict financial accountability, supporters said.

Those who could benefit include the Great Falls-based McLaughlin Research Institute and other Montana-based groups such as University of Montana, Montana State University, Shodair and Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Gray said.

Phil Drake
Courtesy of Great Falls Tribune