The final two days were stressful and hectic with negotiations between the House, the Governor’s office and the Senate being held behind closed doors several times. The last night at 8:30, followed by another attempt at 7 the next and final morning. A really good session that produced some much needed property tax revisions, reforms in the criminal justice system, and gains in the outdated foster care system.
In his closing speech, Majority Leader Ron Ehli had these wise words for all of us, “We cannot allow the success or failure of the Legislature to be defined by the tensions of these final days. We cannot be defined by one or two bills, go home proud.”
Different than most, the 65th Legislative session had one element and key piece of the puzzle well defined and in place before we started. Our checking account cushion was gone, our revenue estimates were less than last time. Our spending was not a question of what old programs get some additional funds and from the long list of waiting projects, which ones can be added. This time all parties agreed, we had to find ways to stretch where we could and reduce where we couldn’t.
We accomplished what looked a bit impossible in the beginning, finding ways to bring agency efficiencies into the criteria of need, changing supervisor rules by bringing the minimum number of those being supervised to six, doing away with the requirement that a supervisor be appointed, and paid, even when it meant one to one. Eliminating many funded positions that were ongoing and not being filled, sometimes for years. Fund the vacancy, don’t fill it and use the money elsewhere. In the end, very little if any cutting to services was needed. Inflationary increases were done for most.
Lots of infrastructure was accomplished by using cash, especially where the projects qualified for any additional matching funds. Some highway and bridges will receive federal funding up to seven times the state amounts, pushing to total project numbers upwards of one billion dollars. Taking advantage of leveraging wherever possible produced some great results.
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The final bonding struggles for the Republicans came down to which type of projects were to be bonded. Sewer, water, and deferred maintenance on schools were projects the Republicans saw as “need,” and the governor’s office wanted to include projects on college campuses, a veteran’s home in Butte and additions to the Historical Center in Helena. Certainly worthy projects, but seen by some as a “want” rather than a “need.”
Since these were all together in one bill it put the package at risk. In the end the vote was three votes shy of the 67 needed for a bill that incurs debt. The final days do not define our over all success. Goals met, budget nicely balanced, we are in a great position to enjoy the projected revenue recovery in the next two years.
Final wrap up next week.
– Ed Greef, Rep HD-88, Florence