The 64th legislative session is finally over, and as a result, your wallet will be lighter in the future.
Once again, the governor and enough legislators teamed up to grow state government. Only in Helena is agreement with similar interests considered “compromise,” with no concessions actually being made between opposing viewpoints.
Last session they approved a 13.6 percent spending increase. This session they increased the budget another 11 percent, and created a looming entitlement cliff in 2020 by expanding Medicaid welfare. While anyone who dares to question hyper government growth is labeled “extremist,” what happens when the public sector continually grows faster than inflation, the private economy or the population?
Taxes must inevitably increase in the future.
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During the first 15 weeks of the session, the governor’s coalition raised government employees' pay, expanded entitlements, funded water and sewer projects, approved new university programs without raising tuition (or demanding administrative cost controls), and agreed to pay the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes $55 million while approving their reservation water rights and off-reservation property rights.
During the final week, the House received the last capital projects request. It would have cost another $150 million, almost half of which was for three large projects (a new state historical museum in Helena, refurbishing the old gym at Montana State University-Bozeman, and new state-run health care facilities — even though we already funded local community-based care). Notably, this “infrastructure” bill also required us to borrow $100 million, even though we have a $350 million cash surplus.
Many of us instead wanted to spend our available cash, and to prioritize real infrastructure like local road, water and school repairs. At a House Republican caucus meeting six days before the session ended, I argued that since this legislature already grew government spending and regulation, and our Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to approve debt, conservatives should not compound the problem by accepting more state debt until real compromise occurred. There was plenty of time to negotiate. But the governor and Democrats refused to talk.
So in a series of votes, at least 34 percent of the House voted to represent the will of at least 34 percent of Montanans, and refused to increase our existing $880 million state indebtedness for low-priority pork. The Democrats and media are now twisting my caucus comments that refusing the bonded projects was a “win.” Hardly; the winner from the last two sessions was bigger government.