Posted: Mar 31, 2013 8:57 PM by David Jay - MTN News
Updated: Apr 1, 2013 8:00 AM
BILLINGS - Legislators return to Helena on Tuesday, after the break for the final 23 days.
Some in the House and Senate remain optimistic, while others says there are huge challenges.
The budget will be a big challenge.
"in the waning days the budget is what's key to everything," said Senator Robyn Driscoll, a Democrat from Billings and the Minority Whip. "There's going to be some cuts made for sure in the Senate. We're over by about 19-million dollars so far. So we'll be looking to make some cuts for sure just to leave the budget structurally balanced when we leave there."
"The budget right now is in the Senate and we just learned that oil, gas and coal tax revenues are down," said Representative Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings. "So now the budget is about 12 percent higher than it was last biennium. We have to do a little soul searching into where we want some of these expenses to go, what we want to increase spending on and what we need to decrease spending on."
"I feel good about where we are in the session," said Representative Margie MacDonald, a Democrat from Billings and Minority Whip. "I am worried and concerned about whether or not we will be able to get some of the big tasks we were sent there to do done."
"My concern is revenues equaling expenditures," said Representative Doug Kary, a Republican from Billings. "The revenues aren't going to be there."
Senator Taylor Brown, a Republican from Huntley said the two-year budget may need more work.
"Unfortunately, it looks like the most current version of the proposed budget is out of structural balance by around $175 million," Brown said..
While Medicaid expansion has been tabled, it could come back...
"We've got Medicaid expansion that even though you're reading in the paper, it's off the table,I'm going to keep my head up and think that it's not off the table," Driscoll said.
"This is basically the Affordable Healthcare Act," MacDonald said. "It's been coming for five years. We've had plenty of time to study it. And it's paid for. Montana taxpayers would essentially be saying no to a billion dollars."
"Those numbers don't really make sense to me, but that is just looking at what is handed to us," Zolnikov said."So like I said do we cover more people with a system that is broken or do we try to fix the actual health care system and some of the issues that are increasing costs?"
"Because the Federal Government would pick up almost all the initial cost, this expansion would not cost Montana much for a few years, until the federal support starts to drop," said Senator Taylor Brown, a Republican from Huntley. "But the future cost to Montana at that point is staggering."
While there are differences. they say there has been good cooperation in the legislature.
"I'm real pleased with the working relationships that we've established in the House of Representatives," MacDonald said.
"There's a lot of cooperation, " Zolnikov said. "The Democrats compared to me, there's a lot of philosophical differences. I don't agree with some of their stances, but I respect that and we find the common ground when we can. And I think that's the most important thing. "
"It's been a lot milder session I think than sessions in the past," Driscoll said. "Seems like far more genteel this session."