By Ron VandenBoom
Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, said he thinks it is better than nothing, but he expressed disappointment that it has taken so long.
The "it" Peck refers to is the decision by Gov. Marc Racicot to hold a special session of the Montana Legislature in May. It is also a view shared by other Democratic legislators in the Havre area, Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, and Antoinette "Toni" Hagener, D-Havre.
Racicot announced his decision to hold the special session at a governor's conference on agriculture meeting in Great Falls on Wednesday.
The special session is being called to resolve the issue of House Bill 260 a $20 million economic development package that was passed by the last Legislature. The package was put into cold storage when the Montana Supreme Court recently declared the funding mechanism for the package to be unconstitutional.
"I think the governor wobbled too long in calling the session," Peck said. "I really don't understand why he didn't do this when the court decision was made."
Peck added that time is vital and a lot of money is pending the appropriations that will come in from out-of-state.
"Mostly federal, but some private money is involved," Peck said.
He also emphasized that the university system is highly involved in the wait for funds.
"We could be taking advantage of those funds that are available to match," he said.
Hagener also sees the funding of many of the programs in the package as important (CTEP funds being one example) and like Jergeson and Peck said she was "somewhat disappointed it took so long."
"I think it's very important that we address some of the issues," she said.
Jergeson said he applauded Racicot's decision, "and I'm also pleased at his decision to narrowly focus on the economic development package. The Legislature should not involve itself in an orgy of other economic issues."
Jergeson added that he didn't think there was anything political involved in Racicot's decision to wait so long to call the session. He suggested, instead, that disagreements between Racicot and Speaker of the House John Mercer over what issues should be discussed during the session is a more likely explanation.
Peck said he agrees with Racicot's decision to "take care of the one issue that's hanging fire and not, as some people have suggested, try and deal with other issues in a special session."
Hagener, too, said she favors the decision to keep the session narrow and suspects the reason Racicot wants to wait until May to convene the session is so they can use Carroll College.
Judy Martz, lieutenant governor and Republican candidate for governor, said Friday while in Chinook, that she believes Racicot did the right thing.
"To fund what was in House Bill 260, I think, is absolutely right," she said.
Martz said the stock and grain growers had lobbied the governor heavily for the session and that there had also been a lot of "partisan bickering" over the issue.
Martz indicated the tone of the Great Falls' conference was also a factor in Racicot's decision.
"You had to have been there to see what was happening in this one industry over this issue," Martz said. "It was very divisive."
She said when he announced the special session even those who were against it were relieved that they were going to do something.
"He asked me about it before the meeting," she said, referring to the governor. "I told him to do the right thing for the right reasons."
Martz said something needs to be done to change Montana's economy "and to bicker back and forth over whether it should be this side of the fence or that side of the fence that does it, or who gets the glory, has nothing to do with doing the right thing. "
Martz said that she believes Racicot's choice of May for the session was due to his desire to use Carroll College as the site for the session.