Posted: May 7, 2013 10:07 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
After issuing 71 vetoes, one particular decision of Governor Steve Bullock's (D) is drawing harsh criticism from those living in the oil patch in eastern Montana.
House Bill 218 would have created a $15 million annual grant program. The money would have been used to pay for infrastructure projects in areas impacted by oil and gas development.
The Montana Legislature passed the bill overwhelmingly, with only eight lawmakers voting against it. But Bullock called the funding "excessive" and vetoed the bill on Monday.
Now people in eastern Montana are wondering why.
State Representative Austin Knudsen (R - Culbertson) says he is incredibly disappointed with the decision.
"I had spoken to the Governor several different times during the session," Knudsen said in an interview. "I know he didn't get everything he wanted, and we didn't get everything we wanted either. But that was one issue I kinda thought we were all on the same page with."
Knudsen says his town of Culbertson is facing a multi-million dollar sewer project, and now in order to pay for it local taxpayers will see dramatic increases in their sewer bills.
"Oil and gas generated approximately $200 million this last year, and that money is not being kept out here [in eastern Montana] to help us out," Knudsen explains. "So, yeah we are feeling a little abused."
Over in Sidney, Mayor Bret Smelser says he's highly disappointed with the Governor's decision and the lack of communication.
"Why didn't he pick up the phone and call Glendive, Baker, Sidney, Bainville? Why didn't he tell them he was going to veto it?" Smelser asked.
Smelser says there are so many infrastructure needs in the Bakken: roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems.
He adds that the Legislature left cities and towns behind this last session, because they get less than 1% of the oil and gas tax, when counties get 25% and schools get 20%.
The state of Montana gets the rest.
"Those politics that are played in Helena, are played in Helena," Smelser said. "We are the ones out here with boots on the ground. We are the ones out here that have to do the heavy lifting to make sure that the state has an oil and gas revenue stream."
Bullock points out he already approved $45 million in investments in eastern Montana, including money for water projects and school districts.
"Every one of these decisions became tough decisions but they are decisions that frankly the Legislature didn't make," Bullock said in a press conference on Tuesday. "They left town leaving me with the need to make sure that we cut about $150 million [from the state's budget]."
Knudsen says he is exploring the potential of trying to override the Governor's veto. That would take a two-thirds majority in both houses with lawmakers being asked to cast votes via mail ballot.