Half Time at the Montana Legislature as Lawmakers Take Break
There’s no marching band on the field, but it is half time, so to speak, at the Montana Legislature this week.
Speaker of the House, Republican Greg Hertz of Polson said some committee heads will be returning as early as Thursday, but the majority of the lawmakers will return to finish the 90 day session on Monday.
Hertz said his hardest work has been spent hammering out the budget.
“We’ve had a good start on the budget,” began Hertz. “The governor came in with a $150 million tax increase and wanted to grow the budget at about 10 percent. We’re made our first cut at the budget and with no tax increases and eliminating 100 or so FTE’s which are jobs that haven’t even been filled for the last year, so it’s not as though we’re eliminating any employees. We also have a strong ending fund balance. We also kicked out some education funding so the schools and school boards know whet their budgets are going to be.”
Hertz said the legislature was listening as Superintendent Elsie Arntzen asked to have the budget money taken during the last special session returned.
“We’re still working on that,” he said. “That was some money that was taken away fro OPI and some other agencies in the governor’s proposed budget cuts and it looks like we’re going to be able to restore most of all of that funding.”
Hertz said the legislature will be restoring most of the devastating cuts from the special session from service agencies that were forced to layoff providers and some closed their doors.
“We’re going to be reinstating most of those cuts, and also providing some provider rate increases, but unfortunately, some of those businesses that did close down, I’m not sure if they’ll be able to reopen,” he said.
Hertz said there was unanimous agreement on a future infrastructure spending bill.
“It’s more of a framework for future sessions so we can take the politics out of these infrastructure problems we’ve had in the past and that crossed the floor with a vote of 100 to nothing,” he said. “It’s a formula that uses cash available, some bonding and emphasizes repair and maintenance before we build new projects. That was presented by Representative Eric Moore out of Miles City. It was a pretty good-sized working group of Democrats and Republicans that worked from January through February and got a good consensus of where we should go in the future.”
Hertz said he and the other legislators appreciate Montanans who travel to Helena to meet with their representatives and attend hearings.