In the run-up to the 2015 legislative session, expectations were low. Montanans expected this session to be more about politics and less about performance. Four months later, I’m pleased to report that the 64th legislative session has been anything but.
Where previous sessions were dominated by partisan bickering at the expense of real benefits for Montanans, this year we saw a bipartisan group of legislators joining me in working to find common ground on some of the biggest issues facing our state. Montanans should be proud of this session.
I worked with legislators from both parties to ensure that our state continues our track record of responsible fiscal management, including maintaining a healthy rainy day fund. Montana has consistently been named the most fiscally prudent in the nation, and this trend will continue. We did this without raising taxes, while continuing our record investments in public education.
Tens of thousands of hard-working Montanans wake up every morning knowing that because they don’t have health insurance through their job and can’t afford it in the private market, they are one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. Because of this legislative session they’ll soon have access to quality, affordable health care. We also made critical investments in mental health, so families can get help for loved ones. We bolstered our state’s child protection system. And we extended help to autistic children.
We cleaned up our elections. Every election season, Montanans are bombarded by misleading anonymous dark money attacks filling their inbox and flooding their TV. Because of this legislative session, the groups funding those ads will now have to tell Montanans where they’re getting their money and how they’re spending it.
Our state economy is strong, but we can make it stronger and increase wages by investing our workforce. So we froze tuition at Montana colleges and universities, while providing scholarships in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math. We also ensured that veterans looking for a job continue to receive preference in employment decisions.
I signed into law the Tax Fairness Act to provide more consistency for businesses.
We supported job creation in Indian Country by improving access to capital and providing assistance for economic development projects.
We provided predictability and economic certainty in eastern Montana by passing a plan to manage sage grouse and reduce the likelihood it is listed under the Endangered Species Act.
That’s not to say that this session didn’t have its share of disappointments. Investments in quality early childhood education and infrastructure job creation were victims of partisan politics.
Despite that, this legislative session has been a breath of fresh air in a time when gridlock rules the day. Montana has set a new example for the nation on how to get things done.
As governor, I’ve made it clear that my door is always open to folks from all political stripes who want to put politics aside to do good things on behalf of the people of this great state. I look forward to building on these results as I continue to serve Montanans.
Steve Bullock is governor of Montana.
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