May 13 Montana News Briefs

Monday, May 13, 2019

Gov. Steve Bullock signs 2-year, $10.3B Montana budget

HELENA (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a two-year, $10.3 billion state budget that restored many of the cuts made in 2017 amid a revenue slump. The spending plan the Democratic governor signed Monday leaves a $210 million surplus in case of unexpected costs or another dip in tax collections. It also leaves $61 million in a budget stabilization fund that was created to avoid the future revenue crunches. Income tax and corporate tax collections are up after lawmakers slashed the budget two years ago to close a shortfall that was compounded by the state’s most expensive fire season in history. Although the state’s economic picture is brighter, the new budget cuts about 100 vacant positions in the state’s largest agency, the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Montana Republicans, Democrats divided over census question

HELENA (AP) — Montana Republicans and Democrats are divided over a possible citizenship question on the 2020 census. The Independent Record reported Friday that Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock say the question would discourage participation in the count, while Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte say it makes sense to want to know how many citizens there are. Tester says the citizenship question is a “taxpayerfunded political ploy” that would add millions to census costs. Bullock’s office says the question would disproportionately target underrepresented communities. Gianforte says the state shouldn’t lose federal funding or representatives because a “sanctuary city or state violates the law.” Daines introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate last week that would include the citizenship question on all census forms.

Normandy-bound vintage plane takes test flight over Missoula

MISSOULA (AP) — A vintage plane restored by volunteers in Montana has lifted off for the first time in nearly 20 years. The Missoulian reports that the 75-year-old Dakota DC-3 known as Miss Montana flew over Missoula on a test flight Sunday. It was the first time it was airborne since arriving in 2001. Volunteers have been working hard to get the former firefighting plane ready to travel to France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Miss Montana is scheduled to participate in a reenactment of the invasion, including dropping jumpers from Montana. A send off gala on Saturday night raised money to cover its fuel costs.

US land agency gets new director for Montana, Dakotas

BILLINGS (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has named a new director to oversee its administration of public lands in Montana and the Dakotas. BLM acting director Brian Steed said John Mehlhoff will assume the Billings-based post on May 12. He’ll be responsible for management of about 13,000 square miles of public lands and more than 700,000 square miles of federal mineral estate in the three states. Mehlhoff worked most recently as program director for the Office of Natural Resources Revenue in Denver. Prior to that, he spent almost 30 years with the BLM, including as associate state director in Colorado, field manager, staff adviser and program lead for the fluid mineral program in Washington. Mehlhoff is a North Dakota native and a graduate of Montana Tech in Butte.

Bill giving Land Board authority over easements vetoed

HELENA (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed a bill that would have required conservation easement purchases to be authorized by the state Land Board instead of the governor. The bill passed the Republican-led Legislature after last year’s dispute between the Democratic governor and the GOP-dominated Land Board over the approval of a $6.1 million easement in eastern Montana. Bullock approved that easement after the Land Board indefinitely delayed action on the proposal. The state Supreme Court sided with the governor, who argued that easements are outside the Land Board’s authority because they protect private land from development but the land’s ownership doesn’t change. Legislators sought to change the law to require the Land Board’s approval. Bullock’s veto letter Friday says the change would subject vetted projects to “the whims of arbitrary political approval.”

Native American students upset over educator’s ouster

BILLINGS (AP) — Some students at a Catholic school serving Native Americans in Montana are unhappy after a popular administrator announced she had been dismissed. The Billings Gazette reported Saturday students at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland planned a walkout in protest, prompting the school to cancel classes Thursday and Friday. Director of Schools Crystal Redgrave told staff members in an email that school officials had ended her employment effective June 30. The newspaper said St. Labre Executive Director Curtis Yarlott didn’t return phone messages Friday. Student government leader Shelrae Limpy, one of the walkout organizers, says students haven’t been told why Redgrave is leaving. Redgrave advocates a culturally rooted education for Native American students that includes focusing on spiritual and emotional elements as well as cognitive and physical education.