Jan 31, 2013 12:50 PM by Marnee Banks (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HELENA - Governor Steve Bullock delivered his first "State of the State" address last night to the Montana Legislature.
Bullock started off his speech by talking about his kids, saying that, "From before they enter kindergarten to the time they leave higher education, we must prepare them to succeed in a 21st- century economy."
Bullock called on the Legislature to invest in education by passing the bonding bill, freezing university tuition, and adequately funding two-year colleges.
He made an appeal to Republicans by talking about cutting the business equipment tax and issuing a property tax rebate; he wants to take $100 million of the state's budget surplus and give every homeowner in Montana a $400 check.
Bullock said, "When you put a check in the hands of Montana taxpayers, they're going to take that money downtown and spend it at the small businesses along our Main Streets.If you take the $100 million and use it to cut property taxes, instead, the average Montana homeowner would receive just $44 this year, not $400."
The governor received loud support from Democrats as he talked about expanding Medicaid and investing in healthcare: "Medicaid expansion is federally-funded, so if Montana doesn't expand its Medicaid program, then our tax dollars will be used to help patients in states like Arizona, Nevada, and North Dakota, states where Republican governors are leading the effort to expand Medicaid."
Bullock said he can accomplish all this and still keep $300 million in the bank.
Bullock didn't specifically mention anything about working with Republican lawmakers, but did say "I have already been trying to change the tone in the halls of this building. I hope you'll join me in doing so."
MT State Representative Austin Knudsen (R-Culbertson), who represents a portion of eastern Montana, gave the GOP response.
Knudsen challenged one of the Governor's key proposals to give every Montana property owner a $400 dollar tax rebate.
He says property owners shouldn't be the only ones to benefit: "Is it better to send money back to a select group of taxpayers on a one-time basis? Or should we provide tax relief for every Montana taxpayer? Every single Montanan deserves tax relief. No one should be left out."
Knudsen says Republicans are optimistic about working with the governor to provide meaningful and permanent tax relief for all Montanans.
Below is the full text of Knudsen's response; click here to read the full text of Bullock's speech.
My name is Austin Knudsen and I represent House District 36, which includes Daniels County, Sheridan County, most of Roosevelt County and a portion of Richland County.
Tonight our Governor outlined his plan of action.
As Republicans, we share Governor Bullock's commitment to move Montana forward and we share common ground with some of his ideas.
We hope that he will continue to uphold his pledge to work with us. To participate and engage with us as we search for opportunities to maximize Montana's potential and find solutions to address Montana's challenges.
It's up to all of us who serve Montanans to develop solutions that will allow our economy to grow and create jobs. But, working towards solutions that move Montana forward means we need to put politics aside and work together.
As we work towards solutions we have to remember that government must live within its means.
While Washington D.C. doesn't understand fiscal restraint, we know better than that in Montana.
Every two-years Montana's legislature meets, and our one and only duty is to craft a budget that is transparent, responsible, accountable, efficient and fair to the taxpayers of Montana.
We are constitutionally required to develop a balanced budget. But we should strive for more than that.
Around kitchen tables across Montana, families are working to build their own budgets so they can live within their means, and at the same time, save some for the future.
We in state government should take a lesson from that.
Republican's are concerned about Federal funding.
Most Montanans probably don't realize that for every $10 the Montana legislature budgets, $4 comes from Washington, D.C - that's 40 percent of what we spend.
That means that because Washington, D.C. can't get their fiscal house in order, it puts our state budget directly at risk.
And we can't put Montanans at risk by building a budget that over relies on the federal government.
Washington D.C. Has proven it is incapable of living within its means. We can't trust D.C. to keep its promises, and we need to be very conservative in making new commitments going forward.
We must be focused on using Montanan's tax dollars efficiently. After all: it's not our money. It belongs to the people of Montana.
Regarding the tax proposals this session: the Governor has called for a $400 rebate for homeowners.
Republicans agree that we should find opportunities to return excess revenues to Montana taxpayers.
But what about all the people who pay taxes but don't own a home?
Is it better to send money back to a select group of taxpayers on a one-time basis? Or should we provide tax relief for every Montana taxpayer?
Every single Montanan deserves tax relief. No one should be left out.
Working with the Governor, we're optimistic that Montanans can finally expect action on meaningful tax relief - permanent, and across the board.
And, it's not just relief we need - it's also tax reform.
Montanans are reminded every April that our state's tax code needs to be reformed and simplified.
By providing a reduction in income tax for all Montanans and looking for opportunities to simplify our tax code we are optimistic that Montanans will finally get real tax relief.
Tax relief that puts money back into the pockets of Montana families, not just certain groups.
On the business equipment tax: Republicans have worked to reduce the business equipment tax for years. Tonight, the Governor joined the chorus to offer Montana's businesses relief from this burdensome tax.
Reforming the business equipment tax will make it easier for Montana businesses to create jobs for Montanans.
Republicans have several business equipment tax reform proposals moving through the legislative process. It seems likely that we will find areas of agreement on this issue.
Because we need to ensure that small-business have the capital they need to grow, hire, and create jobs.
Republican legislators share a desire to improve our economy and lower the unemployment rate
As our economy improves, our people gain better and higher-paying jobs.
Republicans realize that it's not government that creates jobs; it's the private-sector that creates jobs and drives our state's economy.
If we allow our job-creators to grow, create, and innovate we can continue to move this economy forward.
But, to grow an economy we have to invest in one of the most important resources we have - our human resource.
It is critical that we are making investments to make it easier for our workforce to not just find jobs, but also build careers.
By putting an emphasis on our two-year colleges we can get Montanans to work today so that they can capitalize on the demands of our economy.
Our students at our four-year institutions are facing longer completion rates and as a result more debt - we need to provide them with incentives that will help them graduate faster so they can avoid the chains of lingering debt.
And, we need to implement policies that will assist our veterans in making the transition from their service, to a career.
By preparing our workforce to fit the needs of a global economy we can help every sector of Montana's economy grow.
To grow an economy we must to take advantage of the opportunities and advantages we have.
And one thing is clear to every Montanan: Our natural resources are leading the way!
The oil boom that stretches into eastern Montana, the coal mines in south eastern Montana, the timber industry in the west, the agriculture that spreads across our state - these are the industries that are putting Montanans to work.