Posted: Mar 20, 2013 8:49 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - It took a lot of Capitol onlookers by surprise. In a unanimous vote, the Montana House of Representatives passed the state's budget with very little debate.
House Bill 2 covers $2.9 billion in state and federal spending with largest section covering the funding for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
As we compare what made it into the budget to what didn't, you can see that providers serving children with mental illnesses will get a rate increase and the disabled and elderly will get additional funding for home-based care.
The Title X family planning money was entirely eliminated from the budget. Also, the 14 investigators requested by Montana Child Protective Services were also not funded.
Meanwhile, on the topic of funding for education, lawmakers froze tuition for Montana colleges and universities, and also invested in early childhood education and two-year colleges.
However, the jobs for Montana's graduates program was cut, and Governor Steve Bullock's request to fund school technology wasn't put into the bill.
The third largest section of the budget involves the Montana Department of Corrections, and the House agreed to increase Montana Highway Patrol troopers in eastern Montana, as well as money for rural ambulance services.
Bullock had requested 37 additional attorneys for the Public Defender's Office, but the House only gave him 10. The department also requested additional prison beds that were not included in the budget.
But perhaps the bigger story here is how the budget managed to get out of the House of Representatives unanimously.
It's being called historic and unprecedented. The House started debating the budget at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, and just 90 minutes later they had unanimously passed a budget.
The process normally could take all day, and sometimes even two. But the House of Representatives wanted to send a strong message, and lawmakers stood together as the state's budget cleared the House.
"Somehow we got to this point. It's because we all care about Montana," Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) said.
Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel had previously said Republicans were going to cut the budget as it hit the floor, and Minority Leader Chuck Hunter said Democrats wanted to add some programs back in. But section by section, the budget sailed through the House without one single amendment.
"Montanans and our constituents that sent us here are tired of partisan bickering. In a last minute behind the scenes deal, both parties agreed to come to the floor and vote 'yes,'" observed Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena).
"You can do it in a bipartisan way. It ain't always your way. It ain't always the majority's way. You gotta bend a little bit," added Ankney.
Democrats admit the budget isn't perfect, and that it's missing a few critical pieces. But they all agree up to this point there has been considerable time, energy and thought put into it.
"You can't just discount that work in favor of just a few items that were left out of the budget," Hollenbaugh pointed out.
Ankney and Hollenbaugh agree that the bipartisan spirit isn't likely to continue as the budget makes it way to the Senate, but they are just proud of the work they did in the House of Representatives.