By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA - Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed the first bill of the Montana legislative session: House Bill 1, which would have increased legislators' pay by 14 percent for the next legislative session.

Bullock vetoed the bill Thursday with an amendment to increase pay only by 1.4 percent to coincide with the rate of inflation.

He said the state needs to “live within its means.”

“At the same time that we’re tightening the belt of the rest of government, the legislative branch sent me a bill to increase the spending of their branch of government by 14 percent,” Bullock said.

Republican Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said she was blindsided by the veto.

Nancy Ballance
Nancy Ballance

“Half of the amount that he cut was actually, he approved last session as an increase. He signed it into law. It was an increase for legislators’ stipend so that they could use it for travel,” Ballance said.

The bill will now go back to the House and Senate to be read with the governor’s proposed amendments. Rep. Ballance said the only alternative for them now is not to accept the amendments.

“In my mind it felt petty. It felt like something that was done for reasons other than fiscal budget structure,” Ballance said.

But, the governor said the proposal to increase legislator pay is an irresponsible one during a time when the state is asking other agencies to make cuts.

“I’m sending it back to them with a more realistic number, growth that matches inflation and growth that mirrors the moderate growth of the overall budget that I proposed,” Bullock said.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.