It was an historic day. The voting board showed all green, not a single red, or no, vote. Not even one! As the voting took place, which is just a matter of 10 seconds or less, there was a noticeable amount of glances going from one side of the isle to the other during the 10 second period and when the bell rang to end the voting I looked quickly at the news media and could see Mike Dennison, of the Independent Record, slowly nodding his head and actually offering a slight grin.
No one at the capitol can remember a time that HB2, the overall budget bill, passed on the first morning, in the first hour, by a unanimous vote. This was not only significant, this was historical and it was fun to be part of that.
A quick overview of what this bill is: The appropriations committee has the responsibility of spending the first 60 days of the session listening to the budget requests of each department and agency. Starting with the governor’s budget proposal, they start applying the changes that the committee passes regards each amendment. Some are brought to add in more programs and more money, others are brought to reduce and scale back programs. After weeks of testimony and voting back and forth, the product at this point becomes HB2 and is brought to the House floor. On the House floor, this is typically a minimum two days of emotional haggling, pleas, threats and sometimes even civil discussion. It’s a stressful time for everyone. But not so this year, and you are wondering what the heck was the difference this time. Not a quick or easy answer. Several things had to come together just exactly right.
The governor set a tone of cooperation and respect on day one. House leadership also said on day one they were about less politics and better results. Speaker Blasdal says that in three sessions he was never invited to the governor’s office and this time he has been there many times. The finished product that appropriations put together reflected a lot of cooperation and the result was a very well balanced bill. It wasn’t quite all the governor and Democrats wanted, and it wasn’t quite the tightened package the Republicans wanted, but it was a good compromise. Two days before coming to the house, the minority and majority leaders along with the chairman of appropriations sat down and talked about what each side felt they still didn’t have in the bill. One side wanted more, the other less, of course. Finally someone put on the table the perfect question, “Does this bill get us close enough to what we each want to accept it?” Can we dispense with two days of arguing, which will likely produce little change either way in the end, and accept the bill the way it is?
No one else knew of the leadership conversations until the morning we started to hear the bill. At 7 a.m. in a basement room, 61 Republicans listened in disbelief. “I’ll believe it when I see a green board.” “You got to be kidding, right?” “There must be a trick!” …
And then the bell rang, the voting was closed, and the board was indeed ALL GREEN. Several long seconds of silence erupted into applause and a spontaneous standing ovation to ourselves. Even Mike Dennison grinned.
The Senate will begin their discussion on HB2 this coming week. We think we sent them a solid bill along with a message of cooperation. Will they see it in the same light?
Also this week the Medicaid expansion bill was tabled in committee and then was voted down on the House floor when the motion was made to bring the bill off the table. The Republicans want to see some kind of reform, and they do not think it wise to be forced into a federal program that will determine our course and outcome forever. They want the state to make the choices. There will be some reform type bills this next week. And also this week the long awaited Senate education bill (SB175) is scheduled for the House education committee. These last three weeks will be exciting and action packed.
Ed Greef, HD 90