This week the Montana House passed our budget bill, House Bill 2. This forms the basis for Montana's budget for the next two years. Passing a balanced budget is the one constitutional duty of the Legislature, and one that I take seriously.
The initial budget, proposed by the governor before the legislative session, was not balanced. It would have spent more money than nonpartisan projections say that our state will take in. Growing government and raiding our savings account is not responsible, particularly when our economy is still not robust. State government needs to tighten its belt, just like Montana families.
Unfortunately, passing a lean, balanced budget out of the House has been a battle. House Democrats tried to increase government spending during the House floor budget debates through proposed amendments of more than $200,000,000 in additional spending. (That's an astonishing amount when you consider the fact that Montana has less than 1 million residents!) House Republicans fought off that additional spending. I want to emphasize that is not an easy thing to do. It's hard to say "no" to programs that sound very good and do good things, but I felt strongly committed to not raising taxes on Montana families to balance a budget that has grown significantly in very recent years — while Montanans' incomes have not.
I voted for amendments that would have further reduced government spending by $122,716,859. As a whole, Republicans managed to find and pass $33 million in additional savings during floor debate. In the end, the budget that passed the House is more than $136 million below the governor’s proposal and 6 percent less than the one which passed in 2009.
Don't get me wrong — I support spending that is necessary to efficiently run our state and to build jobs. With great bipartisan support from our local delegation, I carried an amendment to support MSU-Northern's biodeisel research.
I'd like to thank Reps. Kris Hansen, Wayne Stahl and Tony Belcourt for the great teamwork on that effort.
While it didn't pass the House, the vote was very close, and so I feel confident that amendment will be supported in the Senate.
House Bill 2 now moves to the Senate where I trust that Republicans will continue to look for ways to make government more efficient and effective. There is still much work to be done and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on ways to make state government more accountable to taxpayers.
(Rep. Wendy Warburton is a Republican from Havre.)