HELENA – Montana Senate President Scott Sales (R-Bozeman) said Thursday night that Republicans agree with Gov. Steve Bullock that the state’s economy is doing well, and getting better.
But he said they have a different vision of how Montana should move forward, “there are some clouds on the horizon,” said Sales.
Sen. Sales delivered the Republican response to Gov. Bullock’s final State of the State address from the Senate chamber at the Montana State Capitol. He spoke about six minutes.
Sen. Sales said he’s concerned about the share of federal money in the state budget. He said more than 40% of state spending comes from transfers from the federal government, and argued the federal debt makes that risky.
“When the federal government finally realizes that it can’t continue these trillion-dollar deficits in perpetuity, states like Montana that have such a high reliance on federal dollars could really be in deep, deep trouble,” he said.
Sen. Sales called for more emphasis on developing the state’s natural resources, like timber, metals and coal. In a statement that drew applause from Republican lawmakers in the audience, he praised the defeat of Initiative 186, which would have placed additional environmental restrictions on hard-rock mines.
“With the technology and the laws that we currently have, we can do this in an environmentally friendly way that doesn’t degrade the great outdoors that we all cherish,” said Sen. Sales.
The Republican did not directly address Gov. Bullock’s request to extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, but he tied the health care issue back to economic growth.
“The best health care program that anybody can have is a good job, so they can buy their own health care,” he said.
Sen. Sales also made clear his opposition to Bullock’s proposal to raise state revenue by increasing taxes and fees on things like tobacco, car rentals and hotel stays.
There are likely to be many battles over that and other budget proposals during the rest of the 2019 legislative session.
“We have 71 days left in the session, and we’re committed to getting your work done,” Sen. Sales said, in a closing message to Montanans.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News