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Lawmakers Sit Down With Governor To Talk Bonding

Jackie Yamanaka

Lawmakers wrapped up Day 85 of their scheduled 90-day Legislative session with no agreement reached on a bonding package.

That morning, 11 legislators sat down with Governor Steve Bullock, Budget Director Dan Villa and other staff in the Governor's Conference Room to talk about possibilities. Specifically, what would it take to reach the 67 votes needed in the House to pass a bonding bill.

Among the bills put on the table were those dealing with abortion and charter schools. House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena, said if those bills were part of the deal, the Republican majority would lose Democratic votes, which could doom bonding.

On Monday, an attempt to vote again on the House’s leaner version failed to reach that threshold by 10 votes. Afterwards House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, said the ball was in the governor’s court.

At the conclusion of the Tuesday morning meeting, Bullock said the ball is back in the Legislature’s court.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, was one of the lawmakers on the House Floor Tuesday to pack up his desk in anticipation of the end of the 65th Legislative Assembly.

“And if there’s a list that gets us to 67 that Democrats actually think are decent ideas so we don’t bleed on that then there’s reason for discussion,” said Bullock.

Knudsen sat down with some of his Republican colleagues in his office between Tuesday’s House floor sessions. When asked for a progress report mid-afternoon, Knudsen said nothing had changed from the morning, but he thinks an opportunity remains to reach a deal on bonding. 

“I have a responsibility to my caucus,” he said. “There are members of my caucus who want to see this passed. My personal feelings aside I feel like I am duty bound to make something happen for those guys.”

There are 3 bonding or loan bills languishing in the House:

Collectively these bills would help communities across the state fix public school buildings, pay for major water projects, 3 higher education buildings, and help the Southwest Montana Veterans Home break ground. Neither political party in the House has enough votes to pass a bonding bill by itself and the clock is ticking toward adjournment.
“Everyone’s panicked about times, but I think we actually have some time left on the play clock here,” Knudsen said he’s not ready yet to throw in the towel.

The Montana Legislature meets every other year for a 90-day session. Saturday is the official last day, but either chamber could vote and call it quits beginning the 87th  Legislative Day, Thursday.