Posted: Feb 28, 2013 10:31 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Updated: Feb 28, 2013 11:00 PM
The 63rd Montana Legislature has reached the half-way mark and lawmakers are heading home for a short break.
Democrats and Republicans both say this session feels different from past years; they seem to be getting along and treating each other with respect. However, there are still major differences in policy.
MT State Senator Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) said, "The most important things still need to be resolved, and that's the budget."
By law, the only thing the Legislature is required to do is pass a budget. So far the subcommittees have gone through it line by line, and in the next 45 days it will make its way through both chambers, which are controlled by Republicans.
MT State Representative Mark Blasdel (R-Somers) said, "We want to see as conservative of a budget as possible."
At this point the budget isn't facing any major cuts due to the state's half a billion dollar surplus. But even with the excess, Republican leadership has concerns over several major spending proposals would could quickly drain the coffers: the state's $4 billion pension shortfall, a $98 million bonding proposal, an $87 million pay plan for state workers, and the expansion of Medicaid which could cost the state $5 million during the current budget cycle.
Wittich said, "I think it's incumbent upon us when we are also looking at all these new spending programs, to look at some tax relief, both property tax relief and income tax relief."
Democrats are criticizing the tax bills that are moving forward, and say that the bills favor big corporations over Montana families.
MT State Senator Jon Sesso (D-Butte) said, "Here we are at the half-way point and we have very little to show for our number one priority."
That number one priority is jobs; Democrats say they want to pass legislation which creates jobs, but without the votes in either chamber it's difficult.
MT State Representative Chuck Hunter (D-Helena) said, "So many times they are on the table but they are not moving. They need to be moved forward to the Governor's desk."
However, with the rift in the Republican caucus, Democrats believe they can work across the aisle to pass key bills including education funding.
Sesso said, "We can take advantage of the fact that there are some moderates who want to work on getting the people's business done and they will join us to make sure that happens."