Archive for State Budget
It appears that national laughingstock known as the 62nd Montana Legislative Session will likely end tomorrow, as today, the House gave final approval to the budget bill and the Senate gave initial approval of the bill.
Normally, we would be happy to see this session end, so Republicans have no further opportunity to make decisions that will harm Montana for years to come. However, the Republicans appear poised to leave town without finishing their job.
The budget has seven vital companion bills that lay out funding for aspects of the budget. The most notable of these bills is the school funding bill. However, these seven bills have not passed the legislature and been sent to the Governor. Without these bills, crucial portions of the state budget could be left in limbo or drastically underfunded. If this happens, the state could easily be left vulnerable to lawsuits for violating our state constitution by not adequately funding our public school system.
Tomorrow will likely be a fairly volatile day as Republicans seek to cram through their policies long before they are ready or have had a full and fair debate on their merits.
A lot has happened during the second Republican Spring Break and the first day back in the legislative session. So, with only 4 possible days left, let’s do a quick recap of what has happened and where we might go from here.
On Friday night, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Rep. Milburn and Sen. Peterson announced they had reached a budget agreement. This agreement reinstated $100 million in federal funds the Republicans had rejected. However, it still slightly underfunded several other important programs, including the K-12 public education system.
Upon returning today, Democrats and the Governor made it clear that they were willing to support the reduced budget, along with the state employee pay plan (which gives the first small pay increase to state employees in nearly 4 years), as well as the “bonding bill,” which invests in our education infrastructure, creates jobs now and helps our long-term economic security.
Today, in the House a bipartisan majority endorsed the bonding bill, however in order to pass third reading, they must gain a 2/3rds majority, which they did not receive today. In addition, the Republican majority killed the state employee pay plan. Finally today, Republicans pushed through the budget deal.
From here, the bonding bill and budget must receive a final approval from the House and in addition, the Senate must sign off on the budget deal.
The last four days of the session are sure to be interesting as legislators scramble to get their work done.
After just three days back in Helena, Republicans in the legislature are apparently ready for another spring break vacation. Today, they voted to take another taxpayer funded break–this time for five days.
This spring break vacation comes in the middle of budget negotiations with the Governor and with only 5 days left in the legislative session.
What makes this spring break vacation particularly egregious is the fact that they haven’t presented the Governor with a complete budget to review and make a decision on. They have only presented him with the main budget bill, but have not sent him the necessary companion bills for the budget. The most notable bill they haven’t sent to the Governor yet is the school funding bill.
Their failure to send a school funding bill to the Governor before skipping town not only leaves the Governor without a finished budget, it also leaves public schools in limbo. As these school attempt to plan for the upcoming year, they are forced to do so without knowing what their budget is for the upcoming school year.
The Governor has until Saturday to decide what to do with the incomplete budget that he currently has in his possession. The Governor has been tight-lipped about his plans for the budget, however all signs indicate that he is not pleased with the bill Republicans have presented to him.
Along partisan lines, the Senate today gave final approval to the Republican budget proposal. The bill now goes to the Governor, who has already indicated that the bill is unacceptable to him.
The bill rejects $100 million in federal dollars that were intended to provide heating assistance to families and health care to children. This money, if the bill becomes law, will go to other states such as New Jersey and North Dakota.
Throughout the legislative session, the Republican majority in the legislature has rejected Democratic ideas, instead favoring a partisan and irresponsible approach to crafting a budget.
In addition to shutting out Democratic legislators, Republicans have also rejected input from the Governor. The Governor presented the legislature with a balanced budget that maintains services in the state without increasing taxes on Montanans. The GOP has made it clear they were not interested in this responsible approach to the state budget.
The Governor now has 10 days to sign or veto the budget measure.
After Democrats in Congress narrowly averted a federal government shutdown that was pushed by GOP lawmakers pursuing their social agenda, it appears Montana Republicans are looking to shutdown the state government.
This afternoon, Governor Brian Schweitzer sent a letter to Attorney General Steve Bullock asking him to take initial steps to prepare for the event that Republicans in the legislature do not produce a responsible budget, to fund state services and the government is forced to shutdown.
In the letter, the Governor says:
The prospect of a shutdown raises large-scale questions which I hope you will address for me. What employees, for example, can be retained at the State Prisons or the State Hospital at Warm Springs or Pine Hill School for Boys, or our state National Guard? Can we keep all highway patrol officers on duty? Are there powers unique to these circumstances that I may exercise to soften the financial losses to the state that will result from the closer of “non-essential” services services such as state parks, museums, the lottery, state liquor stores and drivers license stations? Are there any extraordinary steps I may take to prepare the thousands of state workers who will be furloughed from “non-essential” programs?
If the government is shutdown because of the GOP’s irresponsible budget, Montana’s economy will be dramatically hurt.
Read the full letter from the Governor HERE