Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last-minute Senate GOP maneuvering threatening to derail budget deal

IMG_3363[1]Everyone wants to know what’s going on, but even we the press know very little about the last-minute tactic by the Senate GOP to try to force Gov. Steve Bullock back to the negotiating table.

What we know is this:

Last night legislative leaders and the Governor’s office worked late into the night to hammer out a deal that would satisfy the Republican leadership in both houses.

The headlines this morning proclaimed that Bullock and lawmakers hashed out the plan.

The House convened, finished up their third reading business, said goodbye and adjourned Sine Die.

The Senate then went into session, worked through the first board of business, then came back and voted on a motion to suspend the rules so that the Senate could accept Senate Bill 410. They needed a 2/3 majority because the measure missed transmittal deadline.

The amendments in SB410 are the deal. The measure contains an additional $13.5 million in spending on top of the $10 billion two-year budget bill. The $13.5 million includes spending for corrections, DPHHS,  and commerce.

The Senate voted 27-23 to suspend the rules, but that doesn’t get them the 2/3 majority needed. So the deal, essentially, was not accepted by the Senate.

After that happened, the Senate recessed and Republican Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, and Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte (and lawmakers, staffers, political hacks, and press) went into the Senate cloak room and had an impromptu debate about the negotiations.

Sesso told Wittich and Priest that the deal was a good faith deal, approved by the House, and that by voting against adopting SB410 they were essentially breaking the deal.

Priest and Wittich told Sesso that their “interests were not represented at the table.” However, Priest was intimately involved in the writing the SB410 amendments last night. Everyone I talk to said Priest was in House Speaker Mark Basdel’s office working closely on the negotiations.

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, claimed that Senate President Jeff Essmann was not in the negotiations and therefore the Senate Leadership’s interests were “not represented.” But Sen. Rick Ripley, Chairman of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee disputed that, as did several other Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate who were in the Senate chambers.

Whether Essmann was involved in the negotiations or not is really not relevant, because its clear to everyone at the Capitol that Jason Priest is the Senate GOP point man on the Ledership’s negotiating team. Priest even told reporters that he’s in charge of any negotiations.

Here’s what’s happening as I write this:


The Senate still sits in recess.

Essmann is sitting in a chair at the front of the Senate. He doesn’t appear to be active in this process.

Wittich is posted outside House Speaker Blasdel’s office with a Senate leadership staffer and a GOP operative.

Blasdel, I’m told, has left the building.

Sesso in nowhere to be found.

Bullock is in a cabinet meeting, and the press is locked out.

Jim Molloy, Bullock’s senior advisor, told the press “there will be no negotiations.”

I’m told Blasdel is furious about what just went down in the Senate. My sources tell me Blasdel felt that the Senate’s actions violated the deal that was carefully crafted last night. He was especially incensed, I’m told, about the notion that Priest, Wittich and Essmann were somehow uninformed about the deal. I don’t know if that’s true, because Blasdel is nowhere to be found.

Wittich told me that Priest was involved in the negotiations, but that some changes took place after the Senate GOP leaders stepped away from the table. When SB410 came over the Senate it was not deal that was agreed to, Wittich claims.

Priest and Wittich refuse to tell the press what they want from the Governor’s office.

Bullock appears unwilling to engage the Senate GOP in negotiations, so it could come down to the Senate killing SB410 by not suspending the rules, then Bullock vetoes HB2 because the deal was broken.

If they don’t get this resolved today then the House, which already adjourned would have to come back. One House of the Legislature cannot adjourn Sine Die without the other House until after Day 88. We’re on Day 87, so if this doesn’t get resolved today, we’re back here tomorrow. And if it doesn’t get resolved then, well… then we’re back here for a special session.

Update: I just got more details on the Sine Die law:

In the Constitution it states:

Neither house shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn or recess for more than three days or to any place other than that in which the two houses are sitting.

But – Joint Rule 20-10. Consent for adjournment or recess:

As required by Article V, section 10(5), of the Montana Constitution, the consent of the other house is required for adjournment or recess for more than 3 calendar days. Consent for adjournment is obtained by having the house wishing to adjourn send a message to the other house and having the receiving house vote favorably on the request.

The receiving house shall inform the requesting house of its consent or lack of consent. Consent is not required on or after the 87th legislative day.

Since day 87 is burned – the three days runs us through day 90.

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