By Tim Leeds
The legislative special session ended in just four days and Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, and Sen. Jon Tester , D-Big Sandy, said they are pleased with how things turned out.
"Well, I guess the system has once again proven itself," said Tester, "proven to me it works."
Tester said he went into the session with a pretty pessimistic attitude. He said there was "a ton of stuff on the docket," and he felt they wouldn't have enough time to do it justice or finish it. He said they moved quickly enough in the Senate to address most of the issues, and he said he's happy with most of the bills that were passed.
"I think there was a greater spirit of positive attitude about this than I've seen in many sessions," said Peck.
He said the first couple of days he thought things would go the way House Democrats didn't want them to. Then things started to come together. He said they heard there was a compromise in the Senate, but expected there would be a hook in the compromise. Then when they saw it, there weren't any hooks.
"It was a session where people were not hollering at each other, not angry," he said. He said legislators were working together.
Tester said when the session started it was very partisan. He said he didn't have much hope for the bills; he thought minds were pretty well made up before the session started. But he said once the session moved forward, with HB4 amended to his satisfaction and SB5 shelved, he saw cooperation happening.
Both Peck and Tester said they didn't see anyone in their parts of the Legislature using the special session as a campaign platform. Peck said that although there were 11 candidates for higher state office at the special session, he didn't see any of them trying to advance their campaigns.
Tester said he felt, and still feels, that many were there to try for re-election in the primaries. He said when that happens there's often not a lot of long-term thinking, and it can be very dangerous.
But he said what ended up coming out of the session was productive.
"What came out after a lot of talking came down to the facts." he said.
Tester said the increased education system funding was a needed action, and while some may want more property tax relief than what was passed, at least it's a start.
"Maybe it's not as big a step as some would have taken," he said, "but at least it's a step."
He said the funding for the HB260, the economic development package which the special session was originally called to fund, ended up very good after some work in the session. He said both houses of the legislature did some amending and by the end it was very close to what the governor wanted and very close to the original HB260.
Peck said he can support most of the bills passed. He said with an increase for public school education, a decrease in property taxes and additional property tax relief for the lower $20 million, research funds for the university system and funds for the Montana State University-Northern co-op center, he is pleased with what passed.
Peck said the big news was the change in attitude by the majority party for increased funding for K-12 education.
Both Peck and Tester said it looks like Gov. Racicot will sign all of the bills passed. Peck said Racicot's main point was that he would veto any tax cuts, and since the tax cuts passed were relatively small the governor will probably sign them.
Rep. Antoinette (Toni) Hagener, D-Havre, and Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, were not available for comment by the time of printing.