HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock has given his approval to six bills state lawmakers passed to address Montana’s budget gap – and allowed several key bills to become law without his signature.
Bullock’s office announced his actions Friday on 11 bills passed during last week’s special legislative session.
The governor refused to sign three of the largest pieces of the lawmakers’ budget deal: bills that confirmed $76 million in state spending cuts, transferred millions more into the general fund from other state accounts and established a framework for accepting at least $15 million from the operators of a private prison in Shelby – if Bullock decides to extend the operators’ contract.
In a letter officially explaining his decision, Bullock said he would allow the bills to become law because they were needed to solve the budget shortfall. But he called them “constitutionally suspect,” because they included contingency language that would have altered several other bills if he had vetoed any one of them.
Bullock also vetoed two bills supported by Republican lawmakers during the session. One would have saved $15 million by requiring certain state employees to take furloughs, while the other would have authorized the state insurance commissioner to apply for waivers from some requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.
One of the bills Bullock did sign would raise $30 million by putting a charge on some of the Montana State Fund’s investment holdings. The State Fund has filed suit to block that charge, claiming it is unconstitutional.
All together, the legislation Bullock signed or allowed to become law will cover most of the state’s $227 million dollar budget gap, caused by unexpected costs from this summer’s wildfires and lower-than-expected revenues. He was authorized to close the shortfall entirely through spending reductions, but called a special session to minimize the amount of cuts needed.