HELENA — A Republican lawmaker wants Montana to give more than $8 million to help build President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border. The state’s Democratic governor, who is exploring a run for president, on Thursday quickly derided the idea.
At least one other state, South Dakota, is considering voicing support for Trump’s wall. But Montana, which last year faced a massive budget shortfall, appears to be the first to propose spending its own money on the project.
Scott Sales, a fiscally conservative Republican who leads the state Senate, says his proposal is a “small token” to show border security “is of vital interest to all citizens regardless of what state they live in.”
Gov. Steve Bullock said he respects Sales, but “I don’t know that he has ever strongly advocated for or supported infrastructure investments in Montana, so it’s a little bit of a puzzle for me why he would even consider spending taxpayer dollars on construction projects in California.”
Bullock, who said $8 million would go a long way to fund health care or infrastructure work in Montana, declined to say whether he’d veto the bill if it landed on his desk.
Trump traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday to make his case for the funding as a government shutdown was in its 20th day. The president said he’s willing to consider declaring a national emergency, which he says would allow him to direct the military to begin building the wall.
“Congress is basically dragging their heels over $5 billion, which is really trivial compared to what we spend on an annual basis,” Sales said Wednesday in explaining his funding proposal.
Sales said he calculated Montana’s “share” of the cost of the wall by dividing the state’s gross domestic product by the national GDP and multiplying it by $5.7 billion.
Montana’s $8 million wouldn’t go very far, with Trump’s $5.7B request expected to build 234 miles.
House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner, a Democrat, said the Legislature should focus its spending on Montana’s roads, building, water and sewer projects.
“That’s a lot of school roofs and boilers,” added Democratic Rep. Laurie Bishop.
Montana, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 points, shares a 545-mile border with Canada, where there is no wall.
Sales also has sponsored a resolution that would ask Congress to act on the funding.
State senators in South Dakota on Thursday passed a resolution urging construction of a steel barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Republican-dominated chamber voted 28-5 Thursday for the measure as the federal government shutdown drags on.
Republican state Sen. Stace Nelson, the main sponsor of the measure, says South Dakota has a chance to be part of the national discussion over President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Democratic Sen. Craig Kennedy, an opponent, called the measure “pure politics.”