HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock promised on Wednesday to "change the tone" in the Capitol as he asked a Legislature led by opposition Republicans to help him in cutting taxes, fixing the state pension system, increasing education funding, expanding Medicaid and shedding light on the so-called "dark money" flooding politics.
In his first State of the State speech, Bullock gave an aggressive 45-minute sales pitch for budget plans that are already being met with partisan resistance in the Montana Legislature.
The Democrat asked the GOP-controlled Legislature to be his partner, although he had a couple of pointed remarks aimed at Republicans opposed to some proposals. Bullock is replacing Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who was dismissive of a Legislature he preferred to steamroll than negotiate with.
"We need each other if we are going to make progress," Bullock said.
Bullock made it clear in his speech that he thinks his proposals are superior to alternatives seen so far from the Republican-led Legislature. The Democrat painted a rosy picture of state finance that he believes warrants investment in key areas — and seemed to offer little room for negotiation.
In response, a rising leader in the Republican caucus said there is some "common ground" with the governor — and echoed the request to work together. But 31-year-old Austin Knudsen of Culbertson made it clear that Republicans — opposed to Bullock's request for double-digit percentage increases in state spending and federal money for health care expansion — will be seeking compromise on top of friendly words.
"We need to be very conservative in making new commitments," Knudsen said.
The governor called for a tuition freeze and said his $100 million plan to build college and vocational school buildings is necessary to train nurses, welders, diesel mechanics and other high-growth fields. And he said it would create jobs for 2,500 construction workers.
The governor also said he wants to tighten rules requiring Montana workers on public projects, provide state help to eastern Montana counties struggling to build infrastructure to keep up with the oil boom, and asked lawmakers to restore economic development money aimed at Indian reservations.
He also outlined a broad initiative to increase the number of adults with college or post-high school vocational training from 40 percent of the population to 60 percent, telling lawmakers "we can't do this without you." He said lottery funds originally targeted for schools should be used for that purpose.
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