I’ve heard it said that compromise is when you have a deal where nobody is completely satisfied, but everybody can live with it. The 64th legislative session can be fairly described that way. For the past several elections, Montana has sent Republican majorities to the legislature and a Democrat to the governor’s office. To get anything done in that situation, you have to find ways to work together. Another theme common with the 2013 session is that there was a swing faction within the Republican caucus that voted with the Democrats on certain issues.
By Eric Moore, President
Pro Tempore, SD 19
So I was disappointed that Medicaid expansion under Obamacare was passed this session. Existing Medicaid and other medical subsidy programs already gobble up almost 40 percent of our state’s budget. By putting another 50,000 able-bodied, childless adults on the program, I fear we are putting future funding needs, like schools and infrastructure, in jeopardy – not to mention longer wait lines for the truly needy.
Republicans got a lot of good policy out the session as well. We promised the citizens at the start of the session we would keep government spending at or below population growth and inflation, and that’s exactly what we delivered. In addition, we passed two tax cut bills that would return some of the 300 million surplus back to the hard working taxpayers who earned it. We tried to focus on legislation that would address long term problems within state government. For instance, we added language to the state pay plan that forces the executive to address spiraling state health care costs. We also took title ten funding for reproductive and other women’s health issues out of the state’s main budget bill and into a statutory appropriation of its own. That will save the state millions over the coming years by separating the abortion debate from the state’s budget. We put a bill on the governor’s desk that proposes to divert a revenue stream off the coal fund that sunsets in 2016. Without busting the trust, this offers a long term solution for Montana’s future infrastructure needs.
Speaking of which, the last infrastructure bill for the 2016-2017 biennium died in the house after the senate passed it 47-3. SB 416 was written by a bipartisan group of senators, of which I was a part. We went through a lot of late nights and bad coffee putting together a bill we thought would address statewide infrastructure priorities, strike a balance between cash and bonding, and would be signed by the governor. Unfortunately, we came up short in the house by one vote. As with most failures, there is enough blame here to go around. While I didn’t like some parts of the bill either, I would have thought there were enough good projects so more representatives would support it. That being said, once the bill got to the house floor, the governor’s office made it known there was to be no more negotiation or amendments. When you take an all or nothing approach like that in Helena, you risk the latter, and that’s exactly what happened.
All in all, it was a good session. We passed a lot of good ag legislation, including a bill that will hopefully prevent the sage grouse from being listed on the endangered species list. We increased funding to the ag experiment stations and the department of livestock. We worked with the governor to put two outstanding new members on the board of livestock. The people’s business was conducted with a degree of civility and professionalism of which Montana can be proud. Thank you for the opportunity to represent southeastern Montana. Contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org