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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers, Governor Clash Over Spending

Montana Capitol
Eric Whitney

The Bullock Administration took some heat from Montana lawmakers Monday for what they say was spending over a million dollars without proper authority

In the final two days of the 2013 legislature, lawmakers handed the governor $7.5 million to fund projects in nine departments: Public Health and Human Services, Natural Resources and Conservation, Environmental Quality, Administration, Commerce, Revenue, Corrections, Labor and Industry, and the Governor’s Office . A legislative audit shows $1.1 million of that money went to agencies beyond those the legislature intended.

Audit Committee Chairman Randy Brodehl says the Democratic governor has to do a better job of working with the Republican controlled legislature, “The trust level that the legislature has to have when we’re negotiating has to be backed up over the next two years.”

The expenditures that drew the auditor’s criticism included $465,238 to the Department of Justice $50,652 to the Office of Public Instruction, and $625,000 to the Office of the Public Defender. None of those agencies was on the list provided by the legislature.

Budget director Dan Villa bristled at the suggestion by the Audit Committee chairman the governor might have negotiated in bad faith.

“As the only person in that room during those negotiations that’s currently in this room, I appreciate that perspective, but I can tell you that does not reflect the conversations that were had in that room.”

Villa says the expenses were all justified, and were all within the governor’s discretionary authority.

Republican Senator Taylor Brown says even though the money was well-spent, the governor still broke the rules, “I’m having trouble understanding how you can say, because this is the right thing to do, we did the wrong process.”

Villa didn’t apologize, but vowed to do better in the future.