On this edition of “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the House’s unusual unanimous passage of the state budget, the fate of Medicaid expansion, the competing plans to bail out state pensions, and the rift between two long time political allies, over remarks about the conduct of some University of Montana football players…
Representative Galen Hollenbaugh (D-Helena) said the shock of Tuesday’s unanimous House budget vote still hadn’t worn off even after the body took their final, and again unanimous, vote to send it to the Senate on Wednesday.
Members of both parties agreed not to bring up the dozens of proposed amendments to the $9 billion budget plan, letting discussions over those move to the Senate.
Supporters of some of those amendments outside of the legislature are crying foul, and one gaining much of the attention would have added back about $4.5 million dollars in federal money back into the budget to be used for family planning services. A Republican-dominated subcommittee removed that money earlier in the budget process because some of the money goes to support Planned Parenthood of Montana. Planned Parenthood of Montana does provide abortion services, but none of the federal money has been used to that end–in accordance with the law.
Democratic House members who spoke firmly and frequently in support of restoring those funds were silent when the chance came to bring that amendment to the budget debate Tuesday.
“We were disappointed at the failure of the House as a whole to at least have an open discussion,” said Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Communications Director Lindsay Love. She calls the House budget vote the result of “backdoor dealings that have dominated the budget process this session.” She says the transparency of the process does matter.
“The transparency of the process does matter and Montanans who are watching or listening in from their home communities who care about these programs to be able to see what’s going on up front and out in the open I think is very important,” Love said.
Rep. Hollenbaugh says the budget vote was not crafted in backrooms, but through open discussion between the parties. He’s the Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which puts together the main budget bill (HB2), and says he first pitched the idea of putting the budget through without amendments.
“We’re not letting the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said, “because this budget has an awful lot of very good items in it.” He says the risk for the Democratic side was if one amendment was brought up on the heavily Republican House Floor, all the other proposed amendments would probably follow suit–many of which would have cut resources.
“Rather than take that chance on the House Floor, The Appropriations Committee and leadership were looking at it and saying ‘We actually have a very good product here and we can be comfortable in sending that over to the Senate.”
“the good will…engendered by moving the budget in a unanimous fashion as we work with the Senate is to say look there’s lot’s of agreement,” Hollenbaugh said, and “that we would look for inclusions of very few things.”
And of course, he said, the family planning money is one of those very few things.