The work of the 2019 legislative session has come full circle on two bills vetted in the Senate State Administration Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which I chaired. One was SB 275 by Sen. Al Olszewski (R-Kalispell) and HB 524 by Rep. Marvin Weatherwax (D-Browning) that brought attention to needs for recognition of two different subjects.
SB 275 gave five years to raise $165,000 to commemorate our first woman governor, Judy Martz. HB 524 requested a tribal monument with a flag circle on capitol grounds and had language included that would set up a committee and private donations similar to the Martz fundraising. Both bills passed through my committee and both chambers of the Legislature with hearty approval – as they should have – since neither had a fiscal note attached. Bills must be vetted through the appropriations process if taxpayer money is involved.
Fast forward a year and a half when I started getting calls about the construction going on in front of the capitol building this summer. There was a $650,000 bid given to a Helena contractor (whose wife contributed to the governor’s campaign) to erect a flag circle. Huh?
At our recent state Administration Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee, I had several questions of Director John Lewis from the Department of Administration. He said the flag circle being erected is a “display,” not a “monument.” Don’t we love the wordsmithing going on here – especially at taxpayer expense?
When asked where the money was found, there are several sources, all of them with taxpayer money! If we have these kinds of slush funds in our agencies why aren’t we returning it to hard-working Montanans?
I have served under three governors beginning with Gov. Judy Martz. Unlike our present governor, she not only had integrity, but was honest in her dealings with legislators whether you liked the answer or not.
My hope for the 2021 session is that the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Claims Committees cut the funds out of these agencies that had so much taxpayer money left over for a “display” on capitol grounds. Shaking down your agencies to build a flag circle should not have been done, Gov. Steve Bullock. You should have followed the law we passed in session.
I encourage you to donate to the Judy Martz statue at the Montana History Fund. Your taxpayer dollars have already been spent on the flag circle even though it was not supposed to be done in this fashion.
And now we must pass a law to distinguish “display” and “monument?” No, we need honesty and integrity in government – like Gov. Martz displayed. In these days of “dark money,” be a Judy.
Dee Brown is a Republican state senator from Hungry Horse.
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