Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

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"Head 'em up, move 'em out": Legislators are accused of spending their time drinking whiskey and eating inch-thick steaks, all given to them by lobbyists, for the last 90 days. One has to think, though, that Helena has to be glad to see this bunch leave town. The session has ended, so legislators are heading home, and the governor is going to chase squirrels in the mountains with Jag. No matter how much whiskey and how many steaks they buy in Helena, the locals have to be glad to have a break from all of this.

One would think that with a projected $1 billion surplus, the legislature would have been able to come up with a way to put money away for a rainy day, give long-term across-the-board tax relief, and still give healthy increases to every money-thirsty department in Helena. One would have thought wrong.

Over in North Dakota, where the House and Senate were also fighting like cats and dogs over permanent property tax relief (and this is with both bodies controlled by Republicans,) they came up with what sounds like good legislation -- legislation that we imagine could have gained bipartisan support here in Montana:

North Dakota property tax payers who also pay income taxes may take a credit on their income tax returns equal to 10 percent of the property taxes they pay. The credit is capped at $500 for individuals, and $1,000 for married couples and companies. Any unused credit can be used to offset future income tax bills, or be rebated as a voucher, which then can be used against a future property tax bill. (SB2032)

Naw. North Dakotans (Republicans, no less) came up with it -- must be stupid.

When will the governor lasso him up some legislators?: No-one knows when the special session will be called. Apparently public opinion will drive this one. If public opinion is festering against Republicans, we may have to wait until June 30 for a one-day special session. If public opinion shows that Democrats are suffering just as much as Republicans, look for the legislature to be called back quickly, since as we recall, they have more seats to defend in 2008 than we do.

My huckleberry friend: A blow is struck for the local economy by ensuring that something labelled as being made from Montana huckleberries is actually made out of Montana huckleberries.

Gazette flunks out on editorial objectivity: While starting out saying there is plenty of blame to go around, a sentiment with which most Montanans would agree, the Gazette goes on to lay the blame at the feet of Republicans --

Yet a dissection of this failed session shows that the last clear chance to avoid the train wreck belonged to the House GOP leadership.

Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, refused for 10 days to take any action on any of the major spending bills approved by the Senate. The usual process (in our now-outdated textbooks) would have been for the House to accept or reject the Senate's amendments, and if the House rejected these major amendments, to form a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a compromise.

That's the way the system is supposed to work. Instead, the crucial budget bills didn't move.

Yes, that's the way the system is supposed to work. But Republicans suspected that Democrats weren't serious about any sort of compromise on long-term property tax relief, and until tax relief is decided on, there was -- in their opinion -- no point in discussing spending levels, since the process would likely end up with a "whoops, sorry, no money for tax relief!."

Republicans had boiled their side of the compromise negotiations down to this single demand, otherwise giving in to the Democrats on every single point. That wasn't good enough for Democrats, who wanted to have their spending levels and eat their (or rather, our) taxes, too.

As it turned out, the Republican leadership, for all its gaucherie, suspected correctly, and acted accordingly. How the short-term politics will play out, we have no idea. The Expletive-gate scandal didn't help, and the fact that Republicans generally failed to keep cool wasn't helpful, either. Frankly, we suspect that most Montanans are so tired of the whole thing that it won't affect 2008 elections, except to keep more casual voters home -- a situation that often helps Republicans, although Democrats are clearly calculating otherwise.

Over at The Western Word, the opinion is that Republicans should have just taken what the Democrats gave them (which was essentially nothing) and gone home rather than allow a special session. Perhaps. And we may end up wishing the same. But for now, as long as Republicans already have a bad reputation with folks like the Gazette editorial writers, why not try to hold out for a real compromise -- a compromise that Democrats claim to be anxious to arrive at?

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