Unspoken Deal

Most of our lawmakers want to return home knowing they were productive and effective

By Mike Jopek

Next week our Legislators return to Helena to wrap up work on our behalf. For the 64th Montana Legislature, the vast bulk of the bills are already heard. At the end of the month our state Constitution assures that the session will be over.

All the big policy, like funding of statewide services, is made toward the end of this month. It’s a time when a handful of legislative leaders negotiate the final budget with the governor.

As our lawmakers return from Easter break, they’ll make the big decisions. A simple majority of members can decide what type of policy the 64th Legislature wants to pass.

Back in 2007 many of us were shocked when political ideology refused to pass a unified budget. It was the first time that the Montana Legislature did not fund services like public education in a regular session.

After allowing lawmakers to return home for a couple weeks and face irritated voters, the governor called us back to Helena to an extended session. A good bipartisan budget quickly passed.

That 2007 session began with the speaker-elect declaring a war on the governor’s policies and ended with his caucus giving his majority leader the boot. The speaker was right, the session proved a brutal experience.

It also was an embarrassment for the Republican Party; one it bewilderingly chose to repeat in 2011, but that time with an onslaught of Tea Party passed policies.

Most of our current lawmakers have been through a long three months of working our democracy. They have a month to go. Unless there is an emergency, lawmakers won’t be back into session for another two years.

Most lawmakers take the responsibility of governing seriously. Many are quite bright. They also know that their neighbors back in their hometowns and rural communities need some help and still trust that government can be good. Things like public schools, infrastructure work projects, public safety and health care make sense.

Most lawmakers go to Helena to do some good. Even freshmen lawmakers have now figured out that in order to do much good, they’ll have to work with members of the other party. It’s not too hard to figure out that when the other party controls the other branch of government, nothing says veto like a partisan bill.

Our governor and the legislative leadership team will cut a budget deal. House members assured as much when it sent a partisan budget to the Senate. Given that the governor wields the line item veto, and no willingness of another Legislature not passing a budget, a deal will silently happen.

Any unspoken deal may include funding for tax cuts. Someone often gets a tax break at the end of the session.

In that five-day extended session in 2007, called when we didn’t pass a budget in regular time, Gov. Brian Schweitzer also signed into law a $100 million homeowner tax cut, energy development incentives, all-day kindergarten, and many building projects.

I trust that a working majority of our legislators will allow Montana to become the 29th state to accept our federal funds and expand Medicaid health care so 70,000 people statewide can see the doctor. Lawmakers are likely to pass the last water compact, mitigate property reappraisal to average valuations, fund some infrastructure projects, and put more transparency into elections.

Most of our lawmakers want to return home knowing they were productive and effective. Like in past Legislative sessions many of our lawmakers are moderate and pragmatic. Some are Democrats and some Republicans, but all want to get the job done and come home.

Most of us think that Montana is on the right road. Our unemployment is low and our quality of life is high. We deserve our government to be responsible and serve people.

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