Women Legislators Discuss Budget, Bills

Mike Greener/Chronicle Gallatin County State Representatives Kathleen Williams, JP Pomnichowski and Franke Wilmer discuss what has been happening in the state legislature during a public forum on issues important to women at the Bozeman Public Library Friday afternoon.  

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Saturday, March 2, 2013--Some of Bozeman’s legislators think a balanced budget is possible, but not if they can’t hold off irresponsible tax cuts and refunds.

On Friday, the Gallatin Valley’s female Democratic legislators expressed frustration as they summarized the first half of the legislative session and outlined their hopes for the outcomes of the second half.

Speaking to around 40 residents in the Bozeman Library community room, Reps. Kathleen Williams, JP Pomnichowski and Franke Wilmer said they had worked hard in their committees to keep bad bills from moving forward, along with trying to get a few of their own bills passed.

“About three weeks into the session, I was starting to feel a little like the goalie with 10 kickers in front of me,” Williams said. “You feel like you’re racing to figure out which issues you should jump for in your committees and on the floor.”

Together, the three are members of some of the more contentious committees, including Taxation, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

They’ve all served previously and said they’re discouraged by some of the poorly written and shortsighted bills, such as those dealing with voting rights, school choice and sex education.
“There’s a lot of propaganda,” Wilmer said. “On the record, witnesses claimed that Planned Parenthood’s agenda was to fuel the abortion industry.”

Williams has been around the Legislature long enough to have seen the effect of term limits, and she credited some of the dysfunction to the fact that at least one-third of the legislators are rookies.

“There’s been a change in the functioning of the Legislature: the ability of people to get up to speed and find out who they’re willing to trust,” Williams said. “I try to make sure there’s accurate information, which is incredibly challenging.”

Williams managed one squeaker victory when the House passed her bill with a 50-48 vote. HB 534 will allow corporations to get credit for using some resources to further social causes, such as environmental protection, rather than simply maximizing profits.

But when it comes to state resources, the Taxation committee has allowed several tax cuts to pass through that the appropriations committee now has to reconcile with the state budget, Williams said.
Another budget issue is using part of the state’s surplus to give taxpayers a refund, but some suggestions have Pomnichowski worried.

She supported a bill giving property owners a one-time $400 refund, but it stalled. The bill that Republicans passed would pay out $104 million the first biennium, and the refund would continue to increase in following years.

“That’s unsustainable — that’s proposing to spend a bonus that you don’t know you have,” Pomnichowski said. “But those of us that think that’s irresponsible are out-numbered.”

There wasn’t much to be proud of coming out of the Natural Resources or Agriculture committees, Williams said. But the one shining moment came when they killed a bill that would have opposed Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation bill.

“That was a real fight. It was very close and there was a lot of strategy,” Williams said. “There would have been an incredibly divisive debate on the House floor, and it was better for all involved that we didn’t have to do that.”

Wilmer said the political balance between the Legislature and the executive branch means GOP chairmen put off some big money issues — such as public employee pensions, education funding and Medicaid expansion that would make an additional 70,000 Montanans eligible for Medicaid — until other issues are decided.

“They’re held hostage to negotiation and compromise,” Wilmer. “There’s no way that either party will get 100 percent of what they want. When they both face that — who’s not going to get what —that’s what’s in play.”


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