State Capitol

Montana State Capitol Building

The voting gets more difficult and the emotions stretched in the last two weeks because of the seriousness of the outcome.

In the last couple of weeks the actual budget, tax and revenue bills start moving. Think of the budget as the framework of a puzzle. Those pieces are in place, created by HB-2. Total spending by agency, and total revenue estimates. These pieces are the border to the puzzle and inside the border are a dozen or so pieces that make up the inside of the puzzle. These pieces can change shape and size, but they can’t go away, and in the end they make the puzzle whole.

This week and next we are putting those pieces, think bills, into play by voting on them one at a time.

Each bill has been planned and designed to accomplish a specific purpose. Leadership works on these pieces and then presents them to each chamber for our vote. One of the elements to putting these bills together is the challenge of creating what your chamber will accept when they vote.

For example, the House chamber has to pass the bill the leaders have put together to keep the master plan in play. If one piece is lost, meaning the House didn’t pass the bill, then the chess game continues with leadership trying to make up for the change in another way.

As you might guess, the stress and strain of this negotiation part is intense. Leadership is continually polling their caucus trying to get a feel for what will and won’t work for the body. Sometimes they guess wrong and the chamber says, “do it another way, we don’t like this.”

Saturday we voted on maybe the most key piece.

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Leadership knew the vote would be close and highly emotional... and it was! The fuel tax bill is ready for our vote. This is a important piece of the revenue puzzle in HB-2. By having this revenue committed to highway and bridge repair, it would mean less cash spent here, that could be used to do infrastructure pieces like buildings, vet home or historical society.

More cash there is a preferred choice to bonding by most of the republicans. But, adding any kind of a tax, and that is what the fuel tax is... a tax. Most republicans don’t like increasing taxes like; income tax, or property tax, or mill levies.... however, a fuel tax is a different kind of tax critter in that it brings in a lot of out of state dollars.

Millions of tourists have been telling the state of Montana to take their money for decades, and us Montana citizens have stubbornly refused to do that. By my personal estimate, around 2/3’s of you favor some kind of fuel tax. You feel that overall it’s the right thing to do.

And some of you are beside yourselves with disappointment. The complexity of the budget as a whole and the importance of a new revenue source is not viewed with favor. Your view is limited to this one item, and I clearly see your position. Forget wrapping all this together... the dang thing is a tax.... and by whatever it’s called it’s still a unthinkable tax.

And that is the emotion behind HB-473 as the bell rings and the vote board lights up.... I have 10 seconds to push either the red or the green button. The bell rings again and the board total shows... 57 Aye - 43 No. This piece of the puzzle is now in place. I pushed the green button.

– Ed Greef, Rep HD-88 Florence