As we approach Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank those of you who were able to weigh in with calls, testimony and track last week’s special session of the Montana Legislature.
Your voices that filled the People’s House helped compromises happen. It’s an honor to represent you. At times, it was hard to see democracy in the seemingly chaotic process. I questioned the limited public notice and transparency that I heard justified in the name of efficiency. If making laws is like making sausage, much of special session was rancid sausage. But at the end of the day, in the wee hours of the next day, the Legislature had done much of what was needed to help solve the budget crisis -- except for $27 million dollars.
House Democratic legislators voted no to sine die, end special session and go home, because we were not done yet. We voted no on the "big budget bill" HB 2 because it was a failed compromise. It permanently codifies reductions in people’s programs, hurts Montanans, and throws folks out of work -- all before the holidays. It becomes the new base, the new norm moving forward for years to come. Democrats voted no on a bill to furlough state workers. Many public employees will be home for the holidays because they’ve already been let go by nearly $200 million in cuts resulting from the regular legislative session. Now others face furloughs. I rose on the House floor that this bill is yet another example of hating on public employees who do the work of the people. This all could’ve been avoided had Republican legislators acted with more fiscal and moral responsibility half a year ago.
During the special session sausage making, the much promoted third, third and third framework went sideways. The one-third fund transfers happened. The governor made one-third cuts early in the week. Yet the third leg of the stool, the one-third revenue enhancers went wonting. Special session became an exercise in harm reduction and fending off bad bills. While we avoided the $227 million hole, Montana will still endure millions of dollars more in cutbacks to people’s programs. Not as many Montanans will get hurt, but, if you’re among those who will, it’s dangerously life changing. Montana’s collective attention will now move toward Thanksgiving, even the Cat/Griz game. To Monday morning quarterback, the special session was no Cat/Griz game. Montanans are on the same team. Let’s not call it until we heal all the hurts. Thank you again, and happy Thanksgiving.
Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, represents Montana House District 84, Helena/East Helena, in the Montana Legislature.