GREAT FALLS - In just a couple of weeks, state legislators in Montana will decide whether or not to hold a special session to address the state’s budget surplus.
This is the second time in just a few months that legislators have been asked to weigh in on a special session.
With over a billion dollars in budget surplus, politicians on both sides wish to spend the extra money in the form of income and property tax rebates.
There is disagreement, however, about the urgency of a special session.
As long as politics have been functional in Montana, there has been a session every two years to discuss the state’s budget from January to April.
“Really the one constitutional responsibility that we have, is to pass a budget,” said Sen. Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls).
There is some concern that the special session is being rushed into the spotlight at the expense of the taxpayers.
“This is something that [those in favor] will try to capitalize on, to promote themselves, in an election, using state resources, when, in reality, three months later we’re going to meet,” Jacobson said.
Those in favor of the special session believe it’s their duty to get the hard-working people in Montana paid as soon as possible.
“By the time the [regular] session ends, and checks are cut back to people, we’re talking about six, nine, twelve months before they get their checks and to me, that’s unacceptable. They need it now. And to those who believe we’re wasting state resources, we in fact have the resources already allocated," said Rep. Brad Tschida (R-Missoula), who is at the forefront of calling a special session.”
There’s also disagreement over the importance of holding a special session before or after the elections this fall.
Those in favor of the session being held before the election cycle believe those currently serving must fulfill their legislative duty.
The other end of the spectrum believes a fresh legislative start is just what the state needs to hash out its budget.
Tschida has his own opinions about those who believe the timing of the session is an elaborate election stunt.
“The people who are actually causing this to bump up against the upcoming election are those who are digging their heels in and stymying the effort to return money to their rightful owners,” said Tschida. “Because you want to hold a session now, it’s an election stunt, and it’s anything but that, it’s about getting people their money back."
“We still have to vote whether to have the special session, so they will take our votes and try to use them against us," said Jacobson. “You don’t want to give tax rebates and relief because you voted against a special session. We didn’t vote against doing this. What we voted against was a waste of taxpayer resources to call us to Helena for a special discussion on one bill, three months before the general session. There’s no other opportunity for other options, there’s no opportunity for debate, it’s ill-conceived.”
Though both sides will continue to clash, the dust will settle in early September when the official tally of legislative votes is counted.