Mont. AG asked for opinion on government shutdown

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 12, 2011


HELENA, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, worried that the state Legislature may not pass a reasonable or adequate budget, is seeking Attorney General Steve Bullock's opinion on how to handle a possible government shutdown.

That shutdown, he said in a letter to Bullock on Monday, would occur on July 1.

Schweitzer points to article VIII, section 14 of the Montana Constitution, which prohibits paying any money out of the state treasury without an appropriation made by law.

He says without a state budget on July 1, employees must be furloughed and programs must cease providing services.

"To prepare for this contingency, I am requesting from you a detailed legal memorandum that defines the state's obligations during an executive branch shutdown," the governor wrote.

"I would like this memo to define key terms such 'essential services,' 'essential employees' and 'essential payments,' and provide a full analysis and conclusion as to which employees, payments and services would remain in place as 'essential.'"

Schweitzer goes on to ask Bullock a list of specific questions:

- What employees can be retained at the State Prisons or the State Hospital at Warm Springs, or Pine Hills School for Boys, or the state National Guard?

- Can the State keep all highway patrol officers on duty?

- Are there powers unique to these circumstances that he may exercise to soften the financial losses to the state that will result from the closure of "non-essential" services such as state parks, museums, the lottery, state liquor stores and drivers' license stations?

- Are there any extraordinary steps he may take to prepare the thousands of state workers who will be furloughed from "nonessential" programs?

- In the event of a shutdown, the State will have the ability to refuse payment to any of thousands of vendors who do business with the State. On which of these contracts may the state withhold payment?

- Are rent payments to landlords considered to be "essential" payments that must continue?

Schweitzer tells the attorney general that his request "is not a mere hypothetical exercise."

"I believe that the ruling party in the 62nd Montana Legislature intends to continue on a path that will not produce a reasonable budget that I can sign during the regular session," he wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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