HELENA – Montana Senate President Scott Sales said Wednesday he’ll ask the Legislature to express its formal support for President Trump’s southern border wall – and, put some taxpayer money where its mouth is.
The Bozeman Republican said he’ll also be sponsoring a bill to appropriate $8 million of state money toward building the wall.
“I think this is such a critical issue at a critical time that it behooves us to take a look at maybe prompting Congress to do what they should do,” he told MTN News in an interview. “And, in a small token way, providing a little bit of financial resources to get that job done.”
President Trump has requested about $5 billion from Congress to build portions of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congressional Democrats have refused to approve that spending, leading to a political standoff and a shutdown of the federal government. Sales said 8 million is the fraction of $5 billion that is equal to Montana’s share of the national economy.
Sales’ proposals brought an immediate denunciation by one of the Legislature’s top Democrats, House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner of Great Falls.
“State dollars are a finite resource; we had draconian cuts for human services (during the 2017 special session),” he told MTN News. “Yet we’re going to send money out-of-state for some unknown reason. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Sales put in two bill-draft requests on Tuesday: One for a formal legislative resolution, expressing support for construction of the border wall, and one for the bill to spend the $8 million.
The resolution, if passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, is non-binding. It cannot be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
The spending bill, however, would have to be signed by the governor to take effect.
When asked why he would sponsor a bill that the governor is likely to veto, if it gets through the Legislature, Sales said the issue of border security is of vital national importance.
“If the governor just wants to veto it, out of hand, that’s his prerogative,” he said. “But he has ideas that he thinks that are of state importance, and I happen to think this does, too. …
“It’s a sincere effort. This isn’t something I’m doing on a whim to try to garner a headline. I’ve supported this concept (and) I think a lot of Americans voted for President Trump, and Montanans, on this one concept alone.”
Sales said neither the White House nor state Republicans asked him to put the bills forward.
He said there’s no reason why Democrats in Congress should oppose authorizing $5 billion for building part of the border wall, which would help address border security that costs the nation in crime, incarceration, benefits and other areas.
“I just think they should get it off the table, spend the $5 billion to help get the wall built and put those (federal employees) back to work,” Sales said.
Schreiner called Sales’ proposal “political shenanigans” and that the Legislature has better things to do and on which to spend public funds.
“In my opening-day speech, I said we are focused on Montana issues and how we create Montana-focused solutions,” he said. “We don’t see this as either.”