HELENA - As Barack Obama prepares to become president and enact a national economic-stimulus plan, Montana lawmakers are looking for some say over how the money is spent in the state.
Senate President Bob Story, R-Park City, is proposing to create a special committee of lawmakers and others to help oversee the spending.
"If we're talking hundreds of millions or even billions (in Montana), everyone should be interested in seeing it used efficiently and effectively," he said Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, wants to set up a procedure by which lawmakers can help direct where the money is best spent.
"I can't think of anyone better than local legislators who know what projects need to be done," she said Monday. "We just want to be sure the Legislature is a partner in deciding which projects are going to be funded."
Obama will be inaugurated today as the nation's 44th president. He has said his top priority is enacting an economic-stimulus package that will contain hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of building projects across the nation, to create jobs and help move the economy out of recession.
Story and Williams said lawmakers don't know exactly when the stimulus package will be approved or what it will contain. For that reason, they've begun requesting bills that could direct or oversee the spending.
Sarah Elliott, spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, said the administration believes the federal economic-stimulus money will be approved by Congress while the Montana Legislature is still in session.
"We'll have more discussions as we hear more," she said. "We hope to get information this week."
Schweitzer is in Washington, D.C., today for the festivities surrounding Obama's inauguration.
Story said he would like to create an oversight committee that could be composed of lawmakers, governor's appointees and others, such as local government officials.
It wouldn't have authority to direct any spending but could monitor where the money is spent and make sure it's doing what it's supposed to do, he said.
"I think we need a follow-up mechanism to look at programs as they're bid out and completed, to see if the money is going to what we wanted, and to see if it's effective," Story said. "There's never been this amount of money before."
Williams said while it's likely that the Legislature will be in session when the money is made available and will have a say in how it's spent, she wants to make sure lawmakers have input even if they aren't in session when the money is sent from Congress.
"I think the governor will welcome having our input on this," she said.
She has requested a bill that would set up a procedure to recommend where the money is spent.