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State budget bill heads to House floor for debate

Passing the budget is the state Legislature’s only constitutionally required duty.

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – The main Montana budget bill is scheduled to hit the full House of Representatives Thursday and Friday.

Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said the committee tries to fund basic services like education and health care first.

“In the good years, we fund things that sound like great programs, and they are good, and they’re what people want. But sometimes we haven’t completely fulfilled what the people need,” she said.

This session, the state has less money to move around than in previous sessions.

Democratic Governor Steve Bullock proposed more funding for things like senior and long term care and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education than the Republican-majority legislature proposed.

“When there’s more money coming in than going out, there’s different things people want to do with it,” said Rep. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade. “But when you’re really at the bottom here, it’s problematic because there’s no extra money to fill gaps.”

He said in his four sessions of serving on budget committees, this is the toughest session on budgeting.

Subcommittees have been hearing parts of House Bill 2, or the main budget bill, since the first week of the Legislature.

Passing the budget is the only constitutionally required task the state Legislature has.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.