By Ron VandenBoom
Rep. Antoinette (Toni) Hagener, D-Havre, expressed concerns over the up-coming special session of the Montana Legislature Tuesday at the regular meeting of the Hill County Democratic Central Committee.
"I think you all know that this is perfectly horrible timing," she told the Democrats. "It would have been better if it had been called in February."
Timing was not the only difficulty Hagener found with the special session as recent comments from both sides of the political spectrum indicate issues other than funding Gov. Marc Racicot's economic development package, House Bill 260, are likely to be discussed.
Passed during the last regular session of the legislature, the funding of House Bill 260 was found to be unconstitutional because it tapped the constitutionally protected Coal Tax Trust Fund.
Racicot called the special session for the sole purpose of approving alternate funding for the economic development package and has threatened to veto any legislation that comes out of the session other than funding.
Hagener told her fellow Democrats she wants to know how much money is really in state's budget surplus before any decisions are made.
Estimates for the surplus run as high as $140 million.
"Everybody's talking about the surplus and everybody wants to spend the surplus, but nobody really knows how much we have in the surplus," she said, adding that much of the money has already been committed.
Hagener said capital gains taxes have been providing the bulk of the surplus, "but with the stock market fluctuating up and down you can't guarantee you're going to have that kind of money."
Hagener said some of the money has been committed to reimbursing local governments and added that she considered that "extremely essential."
"I'm very concerned that some of those things could be lost along the way," she said.
Hagener told the crowd she hopes the session will be short, but added that she did not think the session would be sweet.
Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, acknowledged that there are "a lot of issues outside the call," of this special session.
He noted three the Republicans want to introduce that are related to tax reduction and these have already prompted a Democratic tax counter proposal.
Peck also noted the sale of Montana Power Co. might also be introduced and announced that he favored taking up the MPC sale during the special session.
Visiting Sen. Linda Nelson, D-Medicine Lake, said she is looking for "a very very difficult session."
She told the crowd that at first she was in favor of the governor calling the session.
"But then the Republicans started taking so much money for their tax breaks ... the whole thing fell in the ditch.
The only thing she said she was really comfortable with was financing HB 260.
"As far as giving any refunds or doing major tax reform, the special session is not the time to do that," she said. "We don't do our best work during a special session."
She added that she really doesn't want to get into the MPC issue.
"I'm afraid it's going to lead us into two weeks out there instead of a week," she said.