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Montana Legislature – Week 10


By Caven Wade & Elinor Smith

UM Legislative News Service U of M School of Journalism

The 68th Montana Legislature, with an unprecedented Republican supermajority, is halfway through its 90-day session and the next 45 days promise to be dominated by debates over the state’s two-year budget, which funds everything from schools to Medicaid payments to nursing homes and mental health providers. As Republicans vie for tax cuts that they say put money back in Montanans’ pockets, Democrats fight to invest in long-term planning, all while sitting on another unprecedented factor: a $2.5 billion surplus.

Jessi Bennion is a professor of political science at Montana State University and Carroll College. She said there are many things that stick out this session as being out of the ordinary notably the surplus and the Republican supermajority. She also said there’s been a far larger number of bills proposed this session than sessions previous -- something that she attributes to the Republican trifecta of controlling both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office.

“Republicans were very, very successful in Montana in this last election, and have been for at least a decade in this state,” Bennion said. “They’re acting like they have that mandate from the people. And so we’re seeing a lot of ideas, bills, come forth that can only really be explained because they hold that power.”

She said the Republican supermajority changed the rules of the game, so to speak. The Republican party has the ability to push whatever they want forward while Democrats will have to compromise to move their policy forward. Bennion anticipates that’s what the second half of the session might be about -- whittling the bills down until it works for both parties.

“They will do a lot of strategizing, finding compromises until they can pass those bills,” Bennion said.

Constitutionally, the Legislature only has one assignment and that’s to pass a balanced budget. During the first half of the session, joint subcommittees hammered out each section of House Bill 2, the main budget bill. After all of that, in its current form, HB 2 authorizes more than $13 billion in spending over the next two years. Now, the House Appropriation Committee is working through the document piece by piece -- amending, reallocating and compromising until they reach their final agreement. The legislative budget is slightly ...