Federal stimulus money to be spent on new tennis courts in Bozeman drew the ire of Montana's governor Tuesday — and sparked a brouhaha between the Democrat and Republicans over who is to blame.
The issue started with reports that the City of Bozeman decided Monday to spend about $50,000 of its $621,000 in stimulus money to replace aging courts with a new rubber tiled surface — a move the city pointed out was perfectly allowed by stimulus guidelines.
But Gov. Brian Schweitzer lashed out at the idea Tuesday. The Democrat said that such a project would have been laughed out of the building if Bozeman had specifically asked the Legislature for it.
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"Today we read in the newspaper rubber-tiled tennis courts in Bozeman. What are we going to see next?" Schweitzer said. "This wasn't my intent. This wasn't the intent of Congress."
Schweitzer said Republicans in the Senate are really to blame. The governor said he sought a detailed list of projects, each with a dollar amount, and believes Republicans blocked the idea.
Republicans said that's not true, and counter that in the end they agreed on the exact spending language sought by House Democrats.
"It is the same list that was in the House version that he said he liked," said Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber. "He said the House did a good job, and had a list. So we put it back in there word for word."
The governor's office said it wanted a more specific, detailed line-by-line list of each project, than was in either the House, Senate or final versions of the stimulus spending bill.
Republican Sen. Bob Story, R-Park City, said he thinks lawmakers did it right by not doling out the money to specific city projects. Story said local governments and their residents should have control over what to do with the money for their communities.
"We weren't completely comfortable with the process that local governments went through in putting their wish list up to the governor. That came up through the process pretty fast," Story said. "Also we were concerned that if the governor didn't like someone's projects, he would go through and line-item veto it."
Bozeman city commissioner and deputy mayor Jeff Krauss says criticism of the project is flawed. He said many cities are improving park infrastructure — an item specifically cited as acceptable in the stimulus bill.
Krauss said the improved tennis courts were requested by city residents, along with a climbing wall the city is using the federal money for.
"I don't think the problem in this country is that Bozeman is fixing a park project," Krauss said. "I think the problems in the country have more to do with every little thing that hits the news being turned into partisan politics."
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