- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana Republicans gathered their entire legislative caucus Monday to blame Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for the state’s budget crunch and accuse him of lying to voters about government finances during his re-election campaign.

“The question is when did the governor know that we were in this position and why did he keep inflating the ending-fund balance and telling the state of Montana that everything’s fine?” Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said. “It seems to me the answer is because he was in the middle of a campaign and he wanted no one to think of anything else.”

The GOP’s top finance leaders also called Bullock’s two-year budget proposal a “shell game” with “duct-tape solutions” to make the state financially whole.

Bullock was re-elected in November by defeating Republican challenger Greg Gianforte, who also accused Bullock of mismanaging the state budget. In response, Bullock said Montana was the nation’s most fiscally prudent state and that his administration had cut $100 million over four years.

Bullock’s budget director, Dan Villa, dismissed the Republican lawmakers’ statements Monday as political theater and said the state’s fiscal health remains sound. Once the grandstanding wanes, the GOP will negotiate with the governor’s office, he said.

“While we have to go through some of the rigmarole you’re all seeing today so that folks can draw artificial lines in the sand, by the end of the day, Gov. Bullock has demonstrated his ability to work across the aisle and will do that again with this budget,” Villa said.

The budget has been the top focus in the early stages of the Montana legislative session, and Monday’s news conference was the sharpest attack on Bullock by Republicans, who control both the House and Senate.

Revenues over the past two years have come in below expectations, leading to the state spending more money than it is taking in. As a result, Montana has had to rely on $300 million in reserves, which legislative fiscal analysts estimate will drop below $80 million by July.

The governor proposes a combination of spending cuts, fund transfers and tax hikes to balance the next two-year budget and build the reserves back up to $300 million by 2019. Republicans are reluctant to pass tax increases and say they will look for deeper spending cuts, instead.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said taxes will be the real issue when it comes down to finalizing the budget.

“I think what’s really being said is the Republican majority is not going to tolerate any revenue enhancements,” Sesso said. “I think this more a debate about tax policy than it is about spending policy.”


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide