As the leaders of the House and Senate for the 62nd legislative session we strived to adhere to a higher standard of ethics that Montanans should expect from their elected officials.
One of the basic ethical rules says: When you make a promise, keep it.
We put the state’s budget on the governor’s desk on the 75th day of the legislature, earlier than any other in history. This gave him a chance to look it over and discuss any changes he would like to see with us. Following these negotiations, we signed a public budget agreement with the governor at 7:30 p.m. on Good Friday. We believed this agreement with the governor was an honorable approach to governing, where both parties set aside their differences to fulfill a common goal and best serve the people of Montana. In the days following, we worked to hold up our part of the bargain and took Gov. Schweitzer at his word that he would do the same.
The signed agreement provided funding for basic services and fairly funded both K-12 and higher education, all while reducing the overall budget by 6.3 percent. Unfortunately, after legislators went home to their families and businesses, the governor unilaterally chose to renege on his end of the deal.
During the session, with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, we were able to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce the overall size and scope of government. When the deal was signed, we commended the governor for willingly negotiating with the legislative branch, but after legislators left town the governor chose to break the agreement and veto legislation, putting our state’s overall budget and our children’s education funding at risk in the name of political games.
As part of the signed deal, we agreed to put some of the governor’s legislation up for consideration and let our members vote their conscience on the bills. Legislators chose to reject his wish list of legislation, such as Senate Bill 94, which would have raised taxes by $3 million dollars. In exchange for holding votes on his preferred bills, the governor agreed to the negotiated budget.
As an old fighter pilot and a central Montana cowboy, we were taught to do the right things for the right reasons. Sadly, we have a lame duck governor who is desperate to maintain relevance in the waning days of his term instead of working to best serve the people of Montana. By going back on our signed agreement, the governor has shown he is willing to put his insatiable need for attention ahead of the bond of his word and handshake. This is simply the case of a professional politician clamoring for media attention when the spotlight is no longer on him. Whether the voters elect a Republican or
Democrat in 2012, let’s hope our state has a governor who understands what it means to keep a promise.
(Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, are the leaders of the Montana Senate and House of Representatives.)