After 88 days of Republican leaders repeatedly ignoring our input, it is not surprising to hear them now cry foul and blame the governor for “breaking the budget deal.”
Fact is, they didn’t listen much at all this session, so disregarding the budget agreement they signed seems to be right on cue.
Rather than collaborating with Democrats to craft a balanced, responsible budget to live within our means and maintain critical services for Montanans, the Republicans postured and procrastinated for weeks. They decided their supermajority was all they needed to bully an unfinished House Bill 2 past the governor’s veto challenge.
Unfortunately for all of us, they got it wrong. After abdicating their duty on the budget, the Republican leadership now finds it necessary to point blame for their failures. They have only themselves to blame.
The terms of the budget compromise brokered between Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Senate President Jim Peterson and House Speaker Mike Milburn were abundantly clear — it was in writing and signed, for goodness sake. One term of the deal was passing Senate Bill 94, to crack down on offshore tax shelters used by international pharmaceutical companies to avoid paying their fair share of Montana taxes. Instead of getting that done, the Republican leadership in the House actively worked to defeat the measure. Strike 1.
The deal also included the handful of companion bills which had already passed the legislature. But instead of moving these bills promptly to the Governor’s desk, as agreed, the President and Speaker allowed committees to re-work and substantially change the legislation. In one bill, amendments were made to hold K-12 school funding hostage for raids on tourism promotion and hard rock mining funds. Another bill was amended on the last day to increase taxes on every Montana small business through a 2.75 percent Workers’ Compensation “surcharge.” All of this while killing the bonding bill and a modest pay plan for state workers, and proposing tax cuts for major oil companies, who have been charging Montanans $4.19 per gallon and making record profits. Strike 2.
The Republican leadership, incapable of managing their own supermajorities, simply broke their word by allowing the extremist members of their party to take control in the waning hours of the session. Now they seek a scapegoat outside of their party. Spear hunting? Gold standard? Secession?
Perhaps if the majority party had spent more time on the budget rather than these kooky ideas, we could be talking about the successes of the 62nd legislature. Strike 3.
It is clear to us who failed to honor their agreement with the Governor and do what was right for Montana.
(Sen. Carol Williams, D-Missoula, is Montana Senate minority leader and Rep. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, is House minority leader.)