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Governor's veto of SB 442 ignores wide bipartisan support

| May 21, 2023 12:00 AM

Gov. Greg Gianforte’s attempt to veto Senate Bill 442 is unpopular, inexplicable and contrary to the wishes of both the Legislature and the people of Montana.

His veto ignores 132 legislators from both parties who voted for SB 442. It ignores 56 county commissions and numerous local governments who support the bill because it supported needed county road maintenance, enabling farmers and ranchers to get their products to market and EMTs to respond to emergencies. It ignores the needs of veterans, who would benefit from increased funding for crucial services. It ignores hunters, anglers and hikers who would benefit from enhanced access and wildlife habitat conservation. It ignores labor unions, timber companies, energy and utility organizations, health care providers and public land advocates.

And it ignores thousands of Montanans who stood up over and over to show their support for this historic bill.

On behalf of Montana's 56 counties and its hundreds of elected officials, we’re honored to have been a small part of the historically broad coalition that worked together, often despite considerable differences, to develop strong bipartisan legislation that benefited, without exaggeration, every Montanan.

Unfortunately, even while SB 442 cruised through the legislature with a grand total of 132 votes for and 17 votes against, a small handful of legislators on the House Appropriations Committee didn't approve of the democratic process that allocated new marijuana tax revenues. Despite their opposition, we believed the governor would respect the good-faith negotiations in the Legislature and the overwhelming support from Montanans and sign SB 442 into law.

But he vetoed it instead.

We never thought for a moment the governor would try to override the will of the Legislature and turn his back on the numerous beneficiaries of the bill. From veterans to public land advocates to farmers trying to get their goods to market, SB 442 allocated limited marijuana tax resources exactly where the public wanted them spent. The governor choosing to side with legislative spenders rather than his Montana constituents was the wrong choice.

Even more discouraging is his belief that rural Montana has all the resources necessary to meet constituent demands for public roads accessing public lands. We encourage Gov. Gianforte to get out of Helena and visit his rural elected officials to discuss the status of county roads. Better yet, talk to his constituents about their service demands and whether farm to market rural roads need any additional funding. His veto letter showed a concerning lack of understanding of local government taxing authority and the limited resources we have to meet our constituents’ demands.

We’re not done with SB 442, though.

The legislative body has the constitutional authority to override an executive veto with a two-thirds majority if it desires. In his haste to veto SB 442, the governor went out of his way to circumvent this authority and never gave the legislature its constitutionally mandated opportunity to respond to his veto. This type of governance sets a dangerous precedent.

Without delay, the Governor needs to deliver the veto documents appropriately to the Secretary of State who then needs to poll the members of the 2023 Legislature regarding Senate Bill 442.

Over 130 legislators voted in favor of SB 442, and they deserve the chance to have a final say on legislation that directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of their constituents. Anything less is a failure of government.

Eric Bryson, Executive Director, Montana Association of Counties (MACo); Roman Zylawy, MACo President, Mineral County Commissioner; Ross Butcher, MACo 1st Vice President, Fergus County Commissioner; Joette Woods, MACo 2nd Vice President, Liberty County Commissioner; Jason Strouf, MACo Immediate Past President, Custer County Commissioner; Mike McGinley, MACo Fiscal Officer, Beaverhead County Commissioner; Randy Brodehl, MACo Urban Counties Representative, Flathead County Commissioner.