Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The proposed legislative compromise: big losses and (small) victories

The governor's public announcement stated clearly what had been floating around last week -- he believes the special session will take 3 days. As Jeff Mangan notes, the man "certainly knows how to count votes. The only questions that remain, who and how many?"

Rep. Mike Lange was at the meeting with the governor, but Speaker Sales and the Chairman of the House Appropriations committee, Rep. John Sinrud, wasn't, so that is interesting.

A couple of months ago, we wrote a piece talking about the fact that while we admired the creativity of the Republican House strategy of splitting HB2 in an attempt to have an impact on the final legislative product, what matters in the end is whether that strategy is successful or not. The extent to which the final budget and tax proposals differ from the executive branch's initial proposal are going to be one measurement of successes, if any.

The proposed compromise does contain a tax credit for homeowners tied to the amount of property tax they pay, in addition to the $400 election year "check in every pot" to all homeowners and renters, so that is a notable change -- although the amount of this credit isn't given, and we don't know whether it will be ongoing.

The $65,000 exemption for business equipment is a change, since it will mean that all businesses can claim that exemption -- not just ones with equipment value of under $65,000 (that's if we're understanding it right.)

Notably absent is any property tax cut for businesses, farmers and ranchers, or other non-homeowners.

And while $50 million would be trimmed from the Senate spending plans, it must be remembered that the total size of that budget was $7.9 billion at last count, making this a 0.6% cut. Wow.

The Senate also busted the governor's own budget, so this spending may not be terribly different from what the executive branch proposed in the first place -- hardly a real compromise with Republicans on spending.

The rest of the proposals are pretty much what Democrats wanted in the first place -- some of which Republicans agreed with, some of which they didn't.

So if this is roughly what gets passed and signed, Republicans will have lost on most things, but have some minor victories, which is all that could be expected with as little leverage as they had.

Would they have won those compromises (or even better ones) had they stayed with HB2 and behaved like good little boys and girls? Maybe, but we doubt it. Was it worth it? Probably, but only time will tell.

We will just quote from the above linked Montana Headlines post for thoughts that haven't changed over the past months:

As we have noted before, Democrats in the end hold all the power in this legislative session if they choose to strong-arm their budget through one way or another.

...Republicans will lose that particular arm-wrestling match. How they comport themselves during that struggle and loss will determine the longer-term victory – which is always the one that matters.

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