As the Legislature ends or second week, I’m pleased to report that our goal of “more about work and less about politics” is still the mood of the House. We are settling into the routines a lot more this week. Most of the briefings, orientations and learning sessions are done. So, this week was into the regular schedules, which means committee meetings every morning starting at 8:00 and at 7:00 two days for committee and whip caucus meetings. Floor sessions are from 1:00 to 3:00 followed by another committee meeting until 5:00 or whenever you finish. Most days the committee meetings don’t go the full time which gives us a chance to pick up mail, check our computers and prepare a little. This schedule does have its embarrassing side in that my wife has commented about the same work schedule doesn’t seem to be applied when we’re home in Florence.
Education committee spent several hours last week and into this week on continuing presentations on understanding the maze of funding areas. The House education committee is called the ‘policy’ committee. In the general appropriations committee is the education sub committee that deals with actually establishing the education budget. Nancy Ballance, HD 89, is on this committee. On the policy side we have to have as thorough an understanding as we can on funding to balance the perspective for our decisions. Everyone says that because funding for education comes from so many different categories… over 50% is from property taxes, the other 50%… is really muddled and difficult to track and understand, especially so for the first and 2nd timers. We are thankful for great assistance from a very patient staff and from the experienced legislators.
One of the bills presented in Education this week is to take the revenue from the Lottery, approximately 14 million dollars, and establish a scholarship fund for higher education students. The lottery monies now go into the general fund. In 1986 the lottery was created and the funds were specifically directed to the teachers retirement fund. I am curious to learn the history of why that was changed. Seems to me, with the current situation in that retirement fund, and in the public employees retirement fund, that it would be worthy of consideration to put these funds back where they started out.
We’ll have wolf, bear and mountain lion management proposals coming to FWP committee this week. I’m looking forward to those discussions as they are usually packed with a lot of emotions. Wildlife management is one of those areas that most folks have feelings about and are quite willing to share them, and often with great passion. FWP is a fun committee.
On the horizon are the first glimpses of starting discussions to fix the state retirement funds. The Legislature has the responsibility to honor the promises made in the past and to that end this session will get us headed towards that goal. Speaker Blasdel recently said, “Addressing the shortfall in Montana’s pension fund is one of our biggest jobs this year.”
Rep. Ed Greef, HD 90