HELENA, Mont. — Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday signed six bills that he proposed as part of a solution to the state’s projected $227 million budget shortfall, vetoed one he found “disingenuous” and let three bills proposed by Republicans become law without his signature, saying they unconstitutionally limit his veto power.
The bills he signed included one to temporarily suspend contributions to a judge’s retirement system to save $ 2.8 million, another to temporarily suspended payments to a state employee health care plan to save $10 million and one to charge a 3 percent management fee on some Montana State Fund investments to raise nearly $30 million over the next two years.
Bullock also signed bills that would end some school block grants, transfer money to the state fire fund and allow the state to sell liquor licenses at auction.
Bullock allowed three budget bills to become law without his signature, including an amended House Bill 2 from the 2017 regular session that effectively makes permanent the $76.6 million in budget cuts he made just before the session started on Nov. 14.
The other bills he did not sign called for transfers back to the general fund in excess of those he proposed and another that seeks to force him to extend by 10 years CoreCivic’s contract to manage a private prison in Shelby, in exchange for about $30 million the state had set aside in case it decided to buy the prison. The bills contain provisions that call for more state budget cuts if the governor were to veto or issue line-item vetoes within the bills.
Because the bills are important in solving Montana’s budget shortfall, Bullock said he would let them become law.
“However, I have grave concerns about the legislature’s political maneuvering to encroach upon my constitutional authority to exercise the veto power on distinct, single-subject bills,” he wrote. “I will look upon similar efforts in 2019 with great skepticism and I will not hesitate to veto such legislation in the regular session.”
Bullock did veto a bill that sought to save $15 million by imposing furloughs on state employees that make over $50,000 a year because he says it violates federal law in saying furloughed employees do not have a right to unemployment compensation. The language of the bill was inconsistent with the sponsor’s statements during floor debate, he said, and it was unclear which departments’ employees would be subject to furloughs.
Bullock noted the bill exempted legislative branch employees from furloughs because the sponsor, Republican Rep. Barry Usher of Billings, said he “didn’t want to ask our staff to write a bill that furloughs themselves.”
The flaws, Bullock wrote, “establish that this bill is not — and was not intended to be — a responsible part of a solution to solve the state’s budget shortfall.”
He also vetoed a bill that would have permitted the insurance commissioner to apply to the federal government for state innovation waivers to establish high-risk insurance pools, saying the topic was too complex for a special session called to address a budget shortfall.
The Montana State Fund has filed a complaint challenging the management fees on its assets above $1 billion.