The 2013 Legislature garnered largely positive remarks from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and a host of criticisms from conservative Republican leadership after lawmakers concluded their business Wednesday.
“The Democrats were able to work with commonsense Main Street Republicans, and we got a lot of great things accomplished,” Bullock said, citing the passage of state employee pay raises, a fix of indebted retirement systems and funding for major construction projects on college campuses.
The governor did not see his entire legislative agenda passed, however. House Republicans halted legislation to use federal Medicaid expansion money to extend health insurance to tens of thousands of Montana’s poor. Bullock also lamented the failure of his plan for a $400 per homeowner tax rebate.
This session saw an often-dramatic split between GOP leadership and a group of moderates who label themselves “Responsible Republicans,” as Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio reports. The conservative leadership team of Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, and Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, say few, if any, of their priorities made it through the process.
“The people who like to spend a lot of government money were winners,” Wittich said. “The losers were the taxpayers and the people hoping for reform.”
Wittich believes at least a quarter of the state’s record-setting $500 million dollar surplus should have been given back as tax relief. He sponsored a tax rebate bill which passed the legislature and is on the way to the governor’s desk, yet Bullock has been critical of the proposal as providing too much relief for corporations and the wealthy when compared with his failed $400 rebate plan.
Wittich also calls the pension fixed passed by the legislature a “bail-out” of a failed system, and believes the pay plan spends too much.
“We, in effect, had three minority caucuses,” President Essmann said about the split in the Senate GOP, “that at various times on various issues would coalesce as a majority to act.”
“We kept track,” Wittich said, “and for every vote where we held firm on a partisan basis, we lost two.”
But Wittich says conservative Republicans still accomplished more this session than in 2011.
Legislative Services reports that 1201 bills were introduced in total during the 2013 Session. The Governor has signed 268 as of Thursday afternoon. At least another 200 bills passed by the legislature wait for his decision.