Lawsuits Filed After Montana Gov. Vetoes Bill to Fund Roads Using Cannabis Taxes

Lawsuits filed by the Montana Association of Counties and the Montana Wildlife Federation are challenging Gov. Greg Gianforte’s (R) recent veto of a bill that sought to use cannabis taxes as a supplement to road maintenance funds.


Full story after the jump.

Two lawsuits in Montana are challenging Gov. Greg Gianforte’s veto of a bill that would have used cannabis taxes as a supplement to county road maintenance funding, the Great Falls Tribune reports. The lawsuits, filed by the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) and the Montana Wildlife Federation, allege the governor violated the state’s constitution by waiting until after the state Senate session ended before submitting his veto of the legislation. 

The lawsuits also name Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen as a defendant, claiming she has failed to call for a poll of state legislators to potentially overturn the governor’s veto.    

In an interview with the Tribune, Roman Zylawy, MACo president and Mineral County commissioner, said “The Legislature’s constitutional check on the executive branch is critical to Montana’s legislative process.” 

“The intent of our Constitution is clear. The Legislature must be given fair opportunity to override a veto.” — Zylawy to the Tribune 

The bill, SB442, would have allocated 20% of the tax revenues generated by cannabis sales to counties for road maintenance and would have amounted to about a $10.4 million annual supplement across the budgets of Montana’s 56 counties. 

Gianforte, a Republican, said during legislative debate that his preference was to spend the funds on public safety and law enforcement, the report says. On May 2, the last day of the Montana Senate’s session, Gianforte’s veto of the bill was not delivered to the state Senate leadership before the session had been dismissed, thus depriving lawmakers of the opportunity to override the governor’s veto. The law had been approved by 130 lawmakers from both chambers of the legislature on both sides of the aisle. 

“Adopting the approach of Senate Bill 442 creates a slippery slope, an incentive for local jurisdictions to reduce their services while keeping taxes higher on their citizens,” Gianforte wrote in his veto letter. “Instead of cutting citizens’ taxes proportionately, they can reallocate those dollars to capricious, unnecessary projects, resulting in the net increase of Montanan’s tax burden.” 

Petroleum County Commissioner Craig Iverson said the governor’s view that the funds would be used for “capricious, unnecessary projects” did not align with the reality of county budgets.  

“There’s no fluff anywhere, no capricious projects at all,” Iverson told the Tribune. “We struggle with the amount of money that we’re given trying to get across 550 miles of roads and do a good job. We enjoy that the recreationalists can come out to Petroleum County and do what they do, but it’s sure hard on the locals to maintain a road that we would like to have and use as well.” 

The lawsuits demand that Gianforte be required to return the bill, along with his reasons for the veto, to the Secretary of State’s Office, and that the secretary of state poll the legislature to determine whether a two-thirds majority exists to overturn the veto. 

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