Governor Steve Bullock’s office is reaching out to Democratic Lawmakers to uphold his vetoes on some key bills from the 2013 Legislature, including some bills that were initially supported by almost the entire legislative body.
As we reported earlier in the week, lawmakers will be mailing in their votes on 24 of Governor Bullock’s 71 vetoes in the coming days. These 24 bills received a two-thirds vote of both legislative chambers when they passed—so they’re eligible for a veto override. If the bills receive that two-thirds vote again, the veto is defeated.
But Rep. Clarena Brockie (D-Harlem) said she is voting to uphold all of Bullock’s vetoes, even though it means changing her mind on some of the measures.
"Because I didn't want to undermine him as a Democratic Governor," Brockie said. "I think he's a good man, I think he's trying to do good for the state."
Brockie said Bullock’s office did contact her to talk about the veto overrides, though she says she had already come to her conclusion. Bullock said he has been in contact with both Democrats and Republicans regarding the vetoes. He hopes none of them get overridden.
"The Legislature looks at bill by bill and then ends up leaving town. When we pull it all together and actually look at 'here's the overall spend,' I think that gives both Democrats and Republicans some hopefully a little bit of pause to say 'we don't want to be one of those states who are running record deficits,'” Bullock said.
The Governor maintains he issued many of his vetoes for fiscal reasons—such as making sure the state doesn’t spend more money than it takes in over the next two years. Bullock also cut spending bills to leave at least $300 million dollars in the state’s bank account for the next legislative session. He said throughout the 2013 Legislature he wanted to have this $300 million dollar balance, but it was not required. In fact, state law only requires a little more than $40 million dollars be left in the bank.
Still, Bullock faults legislators for leaving about 200 bills on his desk when they left. He said if he would have had more time with some of these bills, he may have been able to work with lawmakers to fit them in his budget.
Sen. Dave Wanzenried (D-Missoula) says he voted on the veto overrides as soon as he received them in the mail. The longtime legislator says for the most part he voted the same way on them this time around as he did during the session.
“The Governor doesn’t vote for me and I don’t work for him," Wanzenried said. "I work for the people that vote for me in Missoula.”
Wanzenried said he agreed with Bullock on most of the vetoes anyway.
“If I have a criticism of the administration, it’s not that they’re trying to affect the votes now, I think that makes sense. If I have a criticism, it’s that they didn’t try to affect the votes during the session enough,” he said.
He uses House Bill 12 as an example. It’s a bill Wanzenried strongly supports which Bullock vetoed. The bill increases rates the state pays to providers of Medicaid Services.
“It came through two committees I was on and nobody from the administration testified either time," he said. "And we never got lobbied about it not being affordable.”
Wanzenried said former Governor Brian Schweitzer’s administration took a different approach on securing vetoes. He said when Schweitzer planned on vetoing a bill, he tried to make sure the legislation initially had as many no votes as possible.
“So that he was confident if he vetoed the bill it would be upheld,” he said.
That is not the case this time around. At least a half dozen of Bullock’s vetoes had the support of more than 90 percent of lawmakers. So, it’s unclear if the governor’s influence will be enough to uphold the vetoes.
The results will be released over the next two weeks.
The last time Montana lawmakers successfully defeated a governor’s veto was in 1999.