When it comes to the Montana Legislature’s main budget bill- did House Democrats cave, or did House Republicans agree to spend too much? Both arguments are being made after the unprecedented 100-0 vote being hailed by many observers as a breath of fresh air.
The Daily Inter Lake praised the vote, and the leadership of Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel (R-Somers):
Not only was it unprecedented for Montana, where Democrats and Republicans famously spar over House Bill 2 every other year, but we would venture to guess that unanimous support for a budget bill may be unprecedented for most legislatures across the country.
Although there was reportedly no coercion from leadership in either caucus on how to vote, it’s likely that leadership did play a part in the outcome. And that’s a credit, partly, to Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel, a Republican from Somers, who has been praised by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel released the following statement after the vote came down:
This is exactly the kind of session we’ve been striving for from the beginning: More work and less politics. Neither side wants to waste the people’s time with speeches and bickering. We respect the work of the appropriations committee.
If you add all funds, right now this budget is less than 2 percent over the last biennium, which is less than the rate of inflation. Members of the appropriations committee – from both parties – did good work.
Bipartisan cooperation doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. It means a focus on results, rather than on scoring points. That’s what we’ve done today. More work and less politics.
Despite the unanimous vote, were there any winners/losers? Liberal columnist George Ochenski says House Dems caved, while one Republican state senator says House Republicans spent too much.
From Ochenski in The Missoulian:
Here’s some of what got left out of the budget while House Democrats were singing Kumbaya with the majority Republicans. No aross-the-board pay raise for state employees, many of whom will now go into their fifth year of frozen wages. No money or method to deal with the impacts of the fracking boom in eastern Montana. And significantly – at least for a core Democratic constituency – no $4.6 million in federal funds for 25 family planning clinics and the 26,000 mostly low-income women who rely on the program.
The long-term consequences of the House Democrats’ ill-conceived move will likely play out in the future. Come next year, when those same Democrats are seeking re-election, how will they be able to ask their constituents for campaign contributions while promising “I’ll fight for you” given the fact that they had the chance to do so and didn’t? The reality of the Republican legislative majorities is inescapable. But tragically for Montanans, the Democrats seem to have simply forgotten how to fight.
While I’ve mostly heard praise from Republicans regarding the 100-0 vote, I was able to hear State Senator Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville) on KGVO and KMPT. Thomas says the House Republicans agreed to a budget that spends too much.
KGVO has the audio and the story:
“I think they should have sent us a far more conservative budget,” Thomas said. “We’re out of structural balance now. That bill spends more money than we have estimated coming in by about $100 million dollars. That’s downside number one. Number two it doesn’t allow for any reduction in taxes whether it be income or property taxes, which is very important to us.”
Thomas also had some positive remarks for Governor Steve Bullock, while noting that former Governor Brian Schweitzer had an ego “as big as the Big Sky.” Click here to read the full KGVO news story. Also- for those of you not in Missoula, download the RadioPup app for your smart phone or tablet to listen in to KGVO and KMPT.