Posted: Mar 2, 2013 4:36 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA Democrats and Republicans alike say they really enjoy working with Governor Steve Bullock, but at reporter Marnee Banks found out, that doesn't mean there aren't some fundamental disagreements in how to move Montana forward.
Governor Steve Bullock hinted to change in leadership style during his State-of-the-State address by saying, "I have already been trying to change the tone in the halls of this building. I hope you'll join me in doing so."
Those words seem to have resonated because lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say this session there is a willingness to work together.
"I do believe the relationship right now is much more open with the second floor than has been the case over the past couple of sessions. I have been very encouraged by what I've heard from the governor and seen from the Governor so far," House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter (D-Helena) observed.
"And it sure is nice as a Republican not opening the newspaper each day to be poked in the eye. So, I think that's helped set a different tone in Helena with our relationships," added Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel (R-Somers).
But even with the genuine desire to get along there is a fundamental difference in philosophy. Bullock says the Legislature still has a lot of work to do.
"If I had to grade the Legislature so far, it would definitely be an incomplete," he stated.
The Legislature will focus its next 45 days on passing a budget, which is where many of the fights are expected to take place.
"The budget will be the biggest challenge. When the governor gave us his proposal, it included a 13% increase. He also wants to expand and double the Medicaid program. I think the Republican caucus is more interested in a more conservative budget," Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) said.
"There will be policy disagreements. This isn't all about smiles and buttercup fields. You know I want them to get their work done. Where we differ, I will have a different approach than some other might, but that won't make me any less willing to veto when necessary and to say let's get the job done that Montana sent us to do," Bullock told us.
Lawmakers are hopeful they can continue working together despite their disagreements as the second half of the legislative session nears.