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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

State Budget Hearings Begin Wednesday At The Montana Legislature

Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio

Wednesday, the debate at the Montana Legislature begins over the state-wide budget in House Bill 2. The bill gained only Republican support out of committee because it was more than $100 million less than the governor asked for.

Republican Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen says Democrats calling them cuts to state programs is wrong.

“That’s just blatantly not true. We haven’t cut anything, we simply haven’t grown things to the extent that the Democrats would like.”

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter argues they were cuts, saying they could leave agencies without a workplace because of increased rent, and could cost some public defenders their jobs.

“You know, these are folks that help indigent people, poor people, kind of take their cases into court and pursue them.”

With more than 100 amendments filed on the budget, the discussion will last much longer than it did last session, when then Representative, now Senator, Duane Ankney carried the bill to unanimous House approval.

He says the difference between last session and this session is the group of people on the committee.

“It was the chemistry of the appropriations committee. The respect that committee had for one another, Democrats, Republicans, they all worked really hard on House Bill 2.”

Sen. Duane Ankney (R) SD20
Credit Montana Legislature
Sen. Duane Ankney (R) SD2

However, Ankney says he’s seen more confused and confrontational legislatures, and he still thinks things will work out.

“And in the end, hey, you know, you and I, our lives are pretty good. I mean, I’ve never had food taken out of my mouth because of the appropriations committee. It might be something I like, it might be something I don’t like, but 17 months from now, I can change it again.”

Both House Speaker Knudsen and Minority Leader Hunter say the Republicans will push the bill largely unamended to the Senate. However, Representative Nancy Ballance, who chairs the committee to pass the budget, says it will likely face changes in the Senate after more research is done.

Discussion begins Wednesday and is scheduled through Thursday evening.

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