Republicans answer to taxpayers: Stick to fiscally sound budget
Last week, the House of Representatives spent 14 hours over two days debating amendments on House Bill 2, the state’s major budget bill. The bill that was brought to the House Floor was the result of six weeks of work by the members of the Appropriations subcommittees and full Appropriations committee. Members of appropriations are not allowed to serve on other committees; their time is solely dedicated to the state’s budget.
I am extremely proud of the work done by the subcommittees as it was not an easy task to keep the budget within the limits of the initial revenue estimate and below the estimated inflation level.
The 74 amendments that Democrats brought onto the House Floor for debate went largely unanswered by Republicans as they had already been heard and debated twice previously – once in their subcommittee and again by the full Appropriations committee. Bringing them up for a third time on the Floor, without any prioritization, was simply a way to get their talking points on the record one more time.
The reality is that HB 2 reflects a 5.5% increase over the 2015 biennium and is 2.5 percent lower than the governor’s request for spending. This budget represents a reasonable compromise between our conservative members and constituents, who would like to see no increase in spending, and the liberal Democrats who wanted a much higher spending increase.
My biggest concern with the amendments brought for HB 2 is what seems to be a blatant disregard for the people of Montana who pay the bills – the taxpayer. The liberal Democrats said we should thank the taxpayer by taking more of their money to provide state services that could improve quality of life – implying that somewhere in the pile of a billion dollars of amendments is something to improve the taxpayers’ lives. Who are we to decide what improves each individual Montanans’ way of life?
Many on my side of the aisle were deeply offended by the suggestion that allowing Montanans to keep a little more of their hard-earned money simply amounts to a “frozen pizza they would gladly give away to help their neighbor.” Most Montanans are already, without coercion from the government, helping our neighbors through our chosen charities. Allowing the hardworking taxpayers to keep a little more of their hard-earned money means a new pair of shoes for their kids or a warm coat for winter. And for some it merely helps pay the bills.
The amendments that occupied our time over two days, amounting to nearly $1 billion, was an un-prioritized pile of wants that reflects the same old tired argument that government knows best how to spend your money.
It is easy to say “yes” to everything when you are spending someone else’s money. Holding the budget within a reasonable level is difficult but we owe it to the people who send us their hard-earned money to question and often reject each new spending proposal.
Representative Nancy Ballance is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.