March 20, 2013

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Latest News, Montana

In Rare Bipartisan Move, MT House Unanimously Approves Bullock's Budget

The Montana House stunned observers Tuesday morning by endorsing the session’s major budget bill on a unanimous vote, with no amendments and virtually no debate — a historic departure from the usual days-long, partisan floor battle of sessions past.

In just 83 minutes, the House convened and then reviewed, debated and voted on House Bill 2, the $9 million measure that sets state spending for most state agencies over the next two years.

Republican and Democratic leaders said afterwards they agreed shortly before the Tuesday morning session opened to move House Bill 2 through the chamber with no changes, to show that the bulk of the proposed budget has solid, bipartisan support.

“We were sending a message that we could do it,” said Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “You can do this, you can do the people’s work … and you can do it in a bipartisan way.

“You’ve got to bend a little. You’ve got to get the people’s work done.”

“Wow,” said Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena, the Democrats’ vice-chair on the committee, as he rose on the House floor to make his final comments on the bill. “It’s been an interesting morning.”

HB2 appropriates $9 billion in state and federal funds for state agencies, public schools and the university system, a slight increase over the current two-year budget.

But it doesn’t include other significant proposed budget items, such as pay increases for state employees, $100 million in proposed building projects, tax cuts, or money for projects dealing with impacts from booming oil-and-gas development along the Montana-North Dakota border.

Hollenbaugh said Democrats still believe the bill lacks critical funding for some key programs, such as health care, schools and State Prison staffing, but that they could overlook those shortcomings for now and support the positive parts of HB2.

“This is the beginning of the process,” he said. “It’s not the end, by a long shot. … We will be carrying our concerns to our colleagues in the Senate and hope that our concerns (are heard).”

The House voted 100-0 to endorse HB2, which faces a final, binding vote today before advancing to the Senate.

House leaders said talk of a single, unanimous vote on HB2, without amendments, began Monday afternoon and carried on into the evening, but wasn’t made final until moments before the Tuesday morning floor session began.

Read more: http://helenair.com/news/local/house-unanimously-oks-budget/article_0cb58c12-912a-11e2-a66a-001a4bcf887a.html