© 2015 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

In an interesting turn of events, the CSKT water compact bill SB 262 was tabled in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee this morning.

After struggling to answer questions about the money portion of the bill and unsatisfactorily answering questions about the binding effect on future legislators that the financing represents, Senator Vincent left the hearing expecting executive action to sail through without any glitches.  During the executive action, Senator Janna Taylor offered two amendments related to transparency in accounting for compact related funds:

  1. The first amendment requires DNRC to report to the legislature on compact implementation expenditures of $8 million. The amendment passed 14-5.
  2. The second amendment request an audit of the $55 million expenditure in totality. That amendment passed 10-9.

After the first amendment passed, supporters of the compact began to think about what impact amendments could mean to their ability to get the bill through for transmittal to the House by the Friday deadline.  Committee members were assured that there was still enough time to get the bill through transmittal, but nervous democrats requested the bill sponsor return to the committee to weigh in on these amendments.

Senator Vincent returned to the committee and stated that any amendments would kill the compact bill because the tribes and the United States would have to “approve them”.  Really?  Can the tribe or the United States refuse to allow a state legislature to waive any fiscal accountability or transparency requirements when significant amounts of state taxpayer funds are being proposed?

Then in a surprising move, Vincent asked all supporters of the compact to vote to keep the bill in committee and indicated that he would blast the bill to the senate floor and would take care of removing the amendments. Like good little soldiers, compact proponents on the committee “respected Vincent’s wishes” and voted to table the bill in committee.

Also worth noting, in the same executive session, Senator Ripley proposed a conceptual amendment to make $8 mil only for this biennium and not bind future legislatures to any additional funds (the $47 mil). That amendment will be voted on in house appropriations committee. During the discussion, Ripley reconfirmed that he does not support the policy and will not be voting for it on the floor.

There was a motion and vote to 17-2 table the bill.

Because the senate only requires a simple majority to get a bill to the floor, it is still likely that will happen.  It will be interesting to watch both Democrats and “responsible” Republicans argue why it would be okay to forego any effort to ensure transparency and financial accountability for a $55 million proposed state expenditure.

Anyone want to bet that the compact commission is working very hard on talking points for Senator Vincent’s floor discussion?