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Bullock prepares for budget cuts, Medicaid debate

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2013 at 6:30 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013

They include the centerpiece of his campaign, a $400 property tax rebate for each Montana homeowner, along with a jobs bill, pay raises for state employees and a plan to help military veterans get into college.

Despite the early setbacks, Bullock said his staff meets almost daily with legislative leaders and relations are "cordial."

He has left the door open to working with legislators on an education plan. He complimented Republican Sen. Llew Jones on the work he put into his own plan to increase school money and cuts property taxes. But the governor is not abandoning his proposal, which he said puts the right amount of investment in schools and in technology.

He was less optimistic about the possibility of combining his property tax rebate plan with a Republican proposal seeking permanent property tax cuts. The Democrat argues the GOP plan would be a multimillion dollar windfall to large corporate property holders who don't need it.

"I'm always willing and open to having conversations with legislators and doing all I can to meet them halfway, but I won't do so in a way that ultimately isn't good for Main Street, good for creating jobs here in Montana," he said.

One of the more heated issues in the campaign for governor between Bullock and his Republican opponent, Rick Hill, was energy development in eastern Montana, with each man promising to make a better place for coal, oil and gas operators to do business.

Despite that, Bullock said not to look for development of the Otter Creek tracts, the massive coal reserves the state leased to Arch Coal, in the next four years. Much of that has to do with the time it takes to build a mine, he said.

The Tongue River Railroad that would transport the coal to outside markets is moving through the federal approval process, but it still has a long way to go. Then there is the populist opposition in Northwestern states where long trains would haul the coal to export terminals on the Pacific Ocean.

Bullock said the sides are still too far apart in Washington state for him to get involved in those talks.

Total oil production has been trailing off in Montana, while just to the east, North Dakota is in the midst of a boom with the development of the Bakken formation through hydraulic fracturing.

Bullock says the market will drive future development west into Montana.

"I think there (are) good opportunities and if it is done in a responsible manner ... we at the state will be a partner in trying to help it occur," he said.