The special session of the Montana Legislature got underway with lawmakers still at odds with the Bullock Administration on how to deal with the projected $227 million budget shortfall. One sticking point remains over a proposal to accept $30 million in exchange for extending the contract for a private prison in Shelby another 10 years should be part of the mix.
Senate President Scott Sales and Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen say it’s an issue they want to take up during the special session.
Knudsen says while lawmakers can’t negotiate such a contract, the Republican majority can provide what he calls "an incentive" to the executive branch to consider this proposal.
"I think if we truly have a budget problem right now it is certainly incumbent on all of us as stewards of taxpayer’s dollars to getting that $30 million back," Knudsen says. "So, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that that is certainly considered."
Core Civic has offered to give the state $30 million in exchange for extending its contract to operate the private prison in Shelby another 10 years.
When asked about the governor’s positon on the private prison contract, a spokeswoman for the governor says only Bullock “remains committed to working with Republicans and Democrats to find a responsible path forward.”
But Democrats in the legislature have said they oppose the idea, as does the ACLU of Montana. SK Rossi says Montana needs to make sure a for-profit, private prison company is not pulling the strings of the state’s elected officials.
Rossi says the ACLU of Montana sued the private prison's owners in 2009 over allegations of human rights violations against Native American inmates.
Rossi was asked so what alternatives she would offer instead of the one from CoreCivic, "Well, there’s also the choice to raise more revenue which I think is the right choice."
Temporary tax increases are part of the Bullock Administration’s plan. Basically it carves up the projected $227 million shortfall roughly into thirds: temporary tax increases, budget cuts, and fund transfers.
Senate President Scott Sales expects the legislature will give the governor the cuts he has offered, but he says he’s not willing to balance the budget on the backs of taxpayers. Work remains on the remaining two-thirds of the governor’s plan.