HELENA — Montana’s Republican legislative leaders issued a strongly worded letter to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock Tuesday, asking him to rescind some of his coronavirus directives and consider easing restrictions in some counties.
“If businesses remain closed, income and property taxes, fees and other collections will plummet, causing widespread and catastrophic results to people employed in both the public and private sector,” the wrote. “Montanans are helping their neighbors and they do not need unconstitutional commands – just a simple ask from their governor and they will respond.”
The letter, made public Tuesday morning, was signed by the top Republican leaders in the Montana House and Senate, including Senate President Scott Sales of Bozeman and House Speaker Greg Hertz of Polson.
It said the governor should “rethink” his response and look to ”re-engage the economy,” perhaps by lifting restrictions in counties with no coronavirus cases or that have had no additional cases lately.
Half of Montana’s 56 counties – most of them rural -- have yet to report a COVID-19 infection yet.
Bullock said later Tuesday that he’s “disappointed” the same leaders who were praising efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 now appear to be choosing to politicize the issue.
“It certainly isn’t a time to politicize these efforts,” he said. “I want to get the economy going just like every Montanan does. But I want to do it in a way where we can make sure that the steps we take today won’t put us in a worse spot.”
The governor said his actions are meant to ensure that Montana doesn’t become “the next hot spot” of outbreaks and have to face “some of the challenges we’ve seen around the country.”
Bullock has issued a series of directives to attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections, including a stay-at-home order on March 26 that requires the closure of non-essential businesses.
Restaurants, bars, gyms and some other businesses had been ordered earlier by local public health officials to close on-site premises and public schools are closed until April 24.
A March 30 directive by the governor also stayed evictions and foreclosures for non-payment of rent and any shut-offs due to nonpayment of utilities.
The letter from legislative leaders said those stays are “without constitutional or statutory basis, and that systems already in place allow banks, landlords and other businesses to help those who have lost their job because of the “government-imposed shutdown.”
“Rather than issuing an edict, you could have reached out to rental-management associations, bankers, utility owners and others to encourage them to work with Montanans and help them through short-term cash flow problems,” the letter said.
The letter said Montana’s economy is in a “freefall,” with many businesses closed – but that Bullock has “shielded government agencies from virtually all the same sacrifices demanded on the private sector.”
They noted that few state agencies are closed and apparently no public employees furloughed.