Republicans were in Helena last week with a strong message: we will not raise taxes on hardworking Montanans. When faced with the budget challenge before us, the Legislature could have simply voted down the Governor’s tax hikes to get out of town – forcing him to make deeper and wider cuts to state agencies.
But our resolve to not raise taxes on Montanans and our determination to find a better solution meant that we couldn’t take the easy way out.
The Republican caucus remained united and strong in standing up for taxpayers because we believe, like most Montanans, that when financial times are tough, the first step is to tighten the purse strings.
Money is tight in Montana. The eastern part of our state has been experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent memory and ag and cattle prices are low. In western Montana wildfires raged through most of the summer, destroying over a million acres. In times like this, it is especially important to focus on the most essential government services.
Coming out of the special session, Gov. Steve Bullock has $230 million to work with – all of the tools he needs to refill the state’s depleted fire fund and bring our budget back into balance without raising taxes.
The fact is that there was no acceptable plan when the governor called a special session. He thought he could use the short notice and frenzy of a special session to push through tax increases, without taking any meaningful action on his part to mitigate what he was calling a “crisis.” But he drastically underestimated our resolve. Republicans sprang to action and quickly rallied to expand the discussion and find better answers for the taxpayers and those who utilize government services.
What we found includes millions of dollars of additional fund transfers, a way to save money through temporary state employee furloughs and an offer of $30 million from the Shelby prison. All in an effort to find ways to avoid additional cuts that the governor would otherwise have to make.
Hearing the news less than 24 hours after the adjournment of the special session that Bullock plans to veto the furlough bill leads us to ask the question again – governor, is there a budget crisis or isn’t there? If there is a crisis, then a one day a month furlough could potentially save other employees from losing his/her job entirely.
As leaders of the Republican House caucus, we could not be more grateful to all of the men and women who again left their businesses and families to do the work of the Legislature in Helena, and for holding strong and united throughout this process. And an emphatic thank you to the staff in legislative services who put insane hours and, against the odds, were able to help us draft numerous bills in just two days. We are proud to say that by working together and examining every opportunity, Republicans were able to provide the governor with the tools he needs to repair problems with the budget without raising taxes.
Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, House Majority Leader Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, and House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Hertz, R-Polson.