HELENA – Montana’s governor became perhaps the last in the nation to accept stimulus funds Thursday, as he set aside earlier efforts to use the money as leverage to push lawmakers.
The governor’s formal request for the federal dollars was issued just in time to meet a Friday deadline set by the White House.
“What I had to have was an indication from lawmakers that they wanted to use the money in the way that was proscribed,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said.
Only South Carolina was still holding out on sending a request for some of its share of the money. That state’s governor has refused to ask for it unless it can be used to pay down debt, but the state’s Legislature could issue its own request.
Schweitzer’s action pre-empts a Montana legislative resolution passed for the same purpose. Lawmakers drafted their resolution in response to threats from the governor that he might not accept the $880 million in promised federal funds.
Schweitzer had demanded that lawmakers complete appropriating the money before he would ask for it. But a group of legislative leaders bucked against his deadline by issuing their own request for the state’s stimulus share.
“I think that the Legislature needed to make that decision on its own and give people a chance to get their positions on record,” said Senate President Bob Story, R-Park City.
Legislators are still working on the appropriations bill that will distribute Montana’s chunk of the $787 billion national handout.
But Democrat Schweitzer now says he is assured that lawmakers are prepared to properly use the federal money.
He had worried that a closely divided state House might refuse the funds after he vouched it would be spent responsibly.
The legislators’ resolution gathered bipartisan support, with only about half of the House Republicans opposing a plan they believe will saddle future generations with debt.
Unlike most states, Montana is not confronting a budget deficit, although legislators’ budget work has been complicated by declining revenue estimates.
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