By Ron VandenBoom
Rep. Merlin Wolery, R-Rudyard, called the passage on second reading of HB 31 a charade and said it was unrealistic and should have gone down to defeat.
"In my opinion, it should have been killed," Wolery said in a telephone interview Friday. "It's a charade to keep it alive, and you can quote me on that."
HB 31, by Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, would increase the entitlements for K-12 education by an estimated $67 million. That would give a 4 percent increase to Montana schools in 2001 and increase to 7 percent in 2002.
The bill was passed back to the House Appropriations Committee for additional review by a vote of 56-44.
Wolery said he voted against the measure and described it as a "budget buster" that cannot be funded.
A press release faxed to the media Friday on a Montana House of Representatives letterhead, stated that Juneau's bill was co-sponsored by every Democratic member of the House and Senate and declared the measure as "the best proposal for rescuing Montana's troubled schools."
Kim Gillian, House Democratic leader, is quoted in the release as saying, "We all campaigned on the promise of making education our top priority and now's the time to deliver on that promise."
Gillian goes on to say, "As the vote tally clearly demonstrates, House Democrats stood behind their campaign promises."
"Yeah, meaning the Republican's don't," Wolery chided after hearing the quote. "It's just politics."
Wolery gives HB 31 no chance of ultimately becoming law, but he said there is really not that much difference between HB 31 and HB 121 the bill originally proposed by Gov. Judy Martz that is currently in the process of being amended to include more funding.
Wolery, said he has been working hard to put a two-year average ANB funding proposal into HB 121, a total funding increase of about $9 million.
"A lot of people here would like to increase funding to education," Wolery said. "But we just don't have the money and it's unrealistic to think we do."
Wolery said he supports the addition of $5.1 million into the education budget that Rep. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, managed to get sliced from the executive branch budget, even though the measure could mean the elimination of 191 government jobs.
"They are supposed to be cuts in upper-level administrative positions," Wolery said. "But they will probably end up cutting three lower level positions instead."