According to testimony by Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley before the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, Senate Republican leaders said the MDT and Governor Bullock knew there was a serious budget shortfall ‘before it became a crisis.’

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas said late Thursday that the problem is a lack of leadership from the governor’s office.

“Just before Christmas, they announced that they were suspending about $150 million worth of projects across the state because there was a lack of cash flow for the matching funds,” Thomas began. “So, immediately, people were laid off and lost their jobs over his maneuver. So, as quickly as we could, we announced that we would come up with the temporary money to fill that gap and fund those projects and get them all back in place.”

Thomas said they held a hearing, but then Governor Bullock announced on Thursday that he had found $10 million to help out.

“We’re happy that he did that, but we asked, ‘why would you harm people’s jobs in December just playing politics,” Thomas said. “In the meantime, we get a memo from the Director, Mike Tooley, that he had sent to all the MDT employees dated November 29th saying we have a lack of funding so that we can only do half as much construction next year. But, don’t worry, we’re not going to reduce any FTE’s (full time equivalents) in the Department of Transportation.’ This is glaringly sickening. The message is that it’s OK to send a signal and people in private industry lose their jobs over his (Governor Bullock’s) actions, but then, his director tells everybody in the government, ‘nothing to worry about, we’ll take care of you’.

(The attached memo was included with the press release from the Senate Republicans)

Thomas praised Director Tooley as being a ‘really good person’.

“He’s just working for a poor leader, there’s really no way around it, that’s just what’s happening. We’ve asked the Director of Transportation every way but Sunday what’s the Governor’s plan, what is he going to propose to the legislature to deal with this, and they have no plan. This is a safety issue, and we’ve got to keep working on our highways.”

 

KGVO reached out to Governor Bullock’s spokesman and MDT Director Tooley immediately after speaking with Majority Leader Thomas, but have not yet received a reply.