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2015 Montana Legislature

Bullock pleased with health, water bills but frustrated with infrastructure blockage

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Gov. Steve Bullock sounded pleased with several accomplishments of the 2015 Legislature during a visit to Missoula on Wednesday, but frustrated with the failure of some of his top proposals.

“We walked out with a budget that by and large, I’m pleased with,” Bullock said. It provided new funds to modernize the state’s Child Protective Services division and added research dollars to the state’s university system.

However, he questioned why the Legislature’s Republican majorities refused to pass an infrastructure package negotiated with their own leadership, or the governor’s Early Edge program to invest in early childhood education.

“I don’t know if it was a function of me as governor saying this was one of my passionate priorities that drew the opposition,” Bullock said. “Forty-four other states have made these investments. They say it took eight years to pass all-day kindergarten, but we have kids who can’t wait eight years for this.”

The governor was also pleased with the bipartisan passage of the Flathead water compact, as well as the HELP Act, which provided health coverage to 70,000 Montanans who need assistance with the federal health insurance exchange.

“But from the 30,000-foot view, I’m frustrated by some of the bills that didn’t pass,” Bullock said. In particular, he questioned why an infrastructure bill he negotiated with the House Republican leadership failed to muster its own party’s support.

“It was a very reasonable proposal – that’s why I got on with it,” Bullock said. “Those who said this (defeating the infrastructure bill) was a win, I wonder a win for whom? I think this was a significant loss for Montana.”

Bullock said legislators would have to explain to their local communities and voters how the state will deal with infrastructure problems over the next two years that went unfunded in this session.

He did praise the addition of about $90 million for Treasure State Endowment Program projects that assist local needs, along with the restructuring of state revolving loan interest rates that will save local governments about $40 million over the next two years.

A special session did not appear on Bullock’s to-do list, although he said legislators retain the authority to call one if they think it’s needed.  

With legislators back in their home districts, the governor’s office becomes the dominant force in state government for the next two years. Bullock said he would be working with business and higher education leaders on job workforce development, and with the U.S. Forest Service on fire and forest management challenges.

“Life would be a lot easier if the federal government would pass funding for forest projects before, instead of after, forest fires,” Bullock said. “We need a regional forester looking long-term in Montana. We could very well have a very challenging fire season.”

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