Dear Governor Bullock:
As taxpayers who have footed the bill for the Compact Commission at least over the last decade, no one could be more disappointed that the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission failed to produce a viable Compact that could pass legislative muster than we are. The Compact Commission had ten years of negotiation, all the state, federal, and tribal resources/communication it needed, one year of public meetings, plenty of time to lobby, the normal hearing before the appropriate legislative Committee, and a blast motion to the floor, and it still failed. That sends a strong signal that the public wants a Compact agreement (10+ years of negotiation), but not this Compact (did not pass 2013 legislative session).
But your veto of the amended SB 265 sends the wrong message to the public, the Tribes, and the Montana Legislature. Your veto sunsets the Compact Commission so further discussions are ruled out, even though funds are available and the public supports a settlement by Compact. The veto rewards the CSKT for not negotiating its Compact position held firm since 2001—the position that was once ruled out by the state. And by asking the Compact Commission to report on itself with no directions to change the Compact according to the public’s concerns, the veto tells the Legislature that “it’s this Compact or litigation”. But the people and legislature rejected this compact for good reason.
If you are leaving people with just one choice—litigation—you might want to describe that it is not all bad, and actually may be appropriate here. We understand that in a litigation/adjudication framework, neither the state nor the federal government will be required to come up with any settlement funding. We also understand that many of the Tribes’ expansive claims—like ownership of all water—would not be successful. In the framework of general stream adjudication, there are legal boundaries that can’t be crossed—like they have been in these Compact negotiations.
Leadership is hard work. If the State, the Tribes, and the Governor want an agreement that is truly fair and equitable, they can produce one. That will require all the parties to act like statesmen and stateswomen, and yes, the Tribes must move away from their entrenched positions and actually make some real concessions. If the parties cannot do this, then do the honorable thing and get the work done in Court.
Concerned Citizens of Western MT