There was a lot of hullabaloo early Monday morning, April 27, when Chuck Hunter floated the idea that we just wouldn’t be doing infrastructure this year.
That sent Republicans into a tizzy, for we all know that’s about all they can do when the government spending they were promised is heading into a nosedive. They quickly threw all thought of cutting deficits or reducing spending aside as they went pell-mell toward their ultimate goal – getting as much free money from the government as they can for their pet industries, like oil and transportation.
Yeah, this infrastructure bill will create jobs all around the state and improve our lives, but it’ll also give one helluva handout to oil and gas in eastern Montana. But…I guess that was the intention from the get-go.
So what’s the hold up? Well, it comes down to what I’ve been talking about all along, and that’s infrastructure spending vs. bonding. Do we borrow money when we have it in the bank, or do we use the money we have and reduce the debt burden on our kids? That conversation pretty much went out the window…except for 6 Tea Party Republicans that kept the idea strong.
It came off the old, Bullock-backed infrastructure bill, HB 5, that went down early. That bill would have spent $391 million on infrastructure, with $212 million coming from bonds. It was defeated on January 29 when Tea Party House Republicans led by Representative Nancy Balance (R-Hamilton) broke the bill into seven smaller bills. Eventually Bullock’s infrastructure bill was tabled entirely, on March 25.
This current infrastructure bill was pushed by Senator Jon Brenden (R-Scobey). It calls for $150 million in cash and bonds, not the earlier $391 million that Bullock wanted.
On Thursday, April 23, the infrastructure bill passed a “preliminary House vote,” getting 70-30. I have no idea what preliminary means, except for practice run. So imagine the guy doing a few practice golf swings…that’s what that was.
The bill is so large, with so much money, that two-thirds of the legislature has to vote on this thing. That looked likely, but “extensive arm-twisting Thursday night and Friday morning led to a different outcome,” according to Johnson. On Friday things went south. A small cohort of Tea Party intransigents blocked the bill, getting the vote to 64-40 on two tries. The bill was three votes shy of getting passed, for it only needs 67 votes.
The representatives that opposed the bill were:
- Edward Greef (R-Florence)
- Stephanie Hess (R-Havre)
- Kenneth Holmlund (R-Miles City)
- Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell)
- Bruce Meyers (R-Box Elder)
- Nick Schwaderer (R-Superior)
After those two votes an amendment was tried by Representative Carl Glimm (R-Kila) to “reduce the bonding in the bill in favor of cash.” That went down on a vote of 45-55.
This was rather odd how this all worked out. Even Montana Speaker of the House, Austin Knudsen, supported the bill. He couldn’t even corral the wackos of his own party to go along with it…and why should he? I’ve been saying all along that we’re using too much bonding and not enough cash for this, and I’ve been saying for a long time that economic issues will eventually blend the fringe elements of the Tea Party and disgruntled Democrats together. Hey, I’m not the only one that hates giving rich bankers free money in the form of interest, those six Republicans don’t like it either!
Chuck Johnson had the story in the Missoulian on Saturday about the infrastructure bill. Saturday was a day that this bill would get passed, Democrats told that to everyone that would listen, and it seemed to have worked...to rile-up the opposition. Tea Partiers were able to move the chains on Saturday, getting that vote to 64-60 on two tries. Didn’t look like infrastructure would be happening this year…and why should it?
Was the case made? Should a case have been made? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure how infrastructure spending helps me here in Missoula, in my basement apartment. Guess that means the case was never properly made, huh? So instead of getting compromisers in 2017, how about some salesmen?
Today, Monday, April 27, didn’t go much better. The day didn’t start until 10 AM, when the House convened to take up SB 416.
The first vote took place around 11 AM and went down by just one vote, 66-33. The main guy holding it up was Lee Randall of Broadus. After that the House just gave up on it, figuring they didn’t have the votes. Shortly after noon the House declared the session was over and all they had to do was wait around for the Senate to confirm the same.
All talk of not having a good ending-fund balance was gone – we now have millions of extra dollars to spend on fires or whatever. Really, we’ll just let it sit there, however, until 2017 when we can try to spend it again or give it back to the taxpayers. In that regard, nothing’s changed since the legislative sessions in the 1860s. Today was the same show, the same battle over state spending. In the end this fight was lost to the Democrats, and the state wasn’t allowed to spend the money. But the Republicans lost too, for voters aren’t getting that money back…it’s staying right there in the state’s coffers.
So we have a stalemate, and that’s all the 2015 Montana Legislature ultimately became, a stalemate between two competing ideologies, two visions of government. It’s back to the trenches now, to lick wounds and devise strategies. Another breakout will occur in less than two years, and we’ll see if the age-old battles will have a different outcome.