HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Republican-led House passed a $10 billion budget bill Thursday just hours after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock threatened to veto it for failing to pay for critical services such as protecting children from abuse.
Bullock issued the threat while the House was rejecting Democratic efforts over two days to restore about $1 billion in funding and programs included in his budget proposal.
The House passed the bill 59-41 on a party-line vote Thursday afternoon after rejecting nearly 100 amendments by Democrats. They tried to add back everything from $37 million for a preschool program to pay raises for state employees to funding that would keep staffing in the state public defender’s office at current levels.
Gov. Steve Bullock said in a brief statement to the media Thursday that the nearly 100 amendments brought by Democrats were meant to restore “reasonableness and essential services.”
“I will not accept a budget that puts Montana’s fiscal health in jeopardy and that fails to fulfill our obligations to the people of Montana,” he said. “If House Bill 2 were to arrive on my desk today, I would have no choice but to veto it. I am disappointed in the political games at play here. The people of Montana expect us to do better.”
Republicans, who hold a majority in the House, denied nearly $1 billion in state services requested by Democrats.
House Appropriations Committee chair Nancy Ballance of Hamilton said GOP-led committees dove into the details of state agencies for weeks to develop the leaner Republican budget proposal. She remains disappointed that Democrats, in her estimation, didn’t prioritize their requests, Ballance said.
“The pile of wants and wishes that just didn’t happen to get included in the 5-1/2 percent increase reflects the same old tired argument that government knows best how to spend your money,” she said.
The Republican budget is only 2.5 percent lower than the governor’s request for ongoing spending, Ballance said.
Democratic Rep. Pat Noonan of Ramsay, vice-chair of the committee, countered that Republicans knew of Democrats’ priorities but nobody was listening.
In 2013, it took House members only a little over an hour to unanimously approve a roughly $9 billion spending plan, thanks to bipartisan negotiation beforehand.
Bullock called on the Senate to reject the “unproductive actions of House leadership” and work with his administration on a budget that lives within the state’s means and meets the needs of Montanans.
House Bill 2 will go to the Senate next for consideration.