HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer used his fourth and final State of the State speech on Wednesday night to put the spotlight on jobs and the economy, and cautioned lawmakers against getting distracted with divisive legislation.
Schweitzer, speaking to a joint session of the Legislature, told the lawmakers that Montana workers raising families are busy doing their best to improve their own lives.
“Your mission, members of the Legislature, is to prepare Montana for that new day,” Schweitzer said in prepared comments. “A day of more opportunity, more freedom, lower taxes, better schools and higher paying jobs.”
As is typical, he remained optimistic. Schweitzer said that Montana remains a great place to raise a family and do business.
Schweitzer has proposed a budget that almost completely cuts the oft-maligned business equipment tax without raising other taxes, and even increases school and university funding he argues is key to attracting businesses.
But Republican leaders don’t like the way it relies on transfers from various pots of money to make ends meet over the next two years. They plan to scale back spending roughly $200 million, making nearly certain there will be cuts to education and programs for the elderly and poor.
The two sides share goals of job creation, cutting the business tax and reducing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance — but have already begun to butt heads this legislative session over how to do it.
Republican leaders, in their reaction to Schweitzer, highlighted their plans to ease environmental regulations in hopes of spurring drilling and mining. But they chided the governor for a budget plan they argue is not sustainable past the next two years.
“No matter how you spin it, we are spending more than we are taking in and although the future looks promising, the recovery is expected to be slow,” House Speaker Mike Milburn said in prepared comments. “We cannot play games with the budget. There are ways the state government can juggle money around to make everything look OK, but it is only a matter of time before that money runs out and the ultimate reality hits.”
Although Republican leaders have not made social issues their top goal, anti-abortion and other such bills are coming forward. Schweitzer warned lawmakers not to “abridge individual Montanan’s rights and choices.”
“Please bring me bills that unite Montana. Bills that help businesses and create jobs and bills that prepare our students for a better tomorrow,” Schwietzer said. “I’ll sign them. Each bill you send to my office should help another worker find a good job.”
Schweitzer invited business leaders from gold mining company RX Exploration, coal mining company Signal Peak Energy, wind farm developer Naturener and others to help highlight achievements under his administration.
The governor broke ranks from many Democrats and panned the federal health care reform for potentially doubling the cost of the state’s Medicaid program. He said Montana must challenge every expense in health care because Washington D.C. didn’t.
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