Montana Legislature: State budget bill passes both chambers

The House and Senate passed budget bills on Wednesday, but have more work to do to right the state’s revenue shortfall. (Stan Parker)

HELENA — The Montana House and Senate each passed a budget bill Wednesday that incorporates Gov. Steve Bullock’s reductions and earlier budget cuts triggered by lower than anticipated tax collections.

Over the protests of Democrats, the House passed House Bill 2 by a 59-41 party-line vote.

In the Senate, legislators approved HB2 on a mostly party-line vote.

Bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, told the House the bill puts into place the $75 million in Bullock’s cuts and $60 million in cuts resulting from revenues that came in lower than projected. It is also linked to Ballance’s HB6 that incorporates Bullock’s $75 million in transfer funds.

Democrats criticized the bill, saying it wasn’t necessary because Bullock already put the cuts into place on Tuesday, just as the House convened in special session.

“The amendment to HB2 is unnecessary,” said Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton

The revised bill would set a new budget base for the 2019 legislative session to consider that be much lower, incorporating the temporary cuts Bullock made to address a $227 million budget and revenue shortfall.

“If revenues come in higher than anticipated, it doesn’t give us an opportunity to put money (back) into programs,” McCarthy said.

“This will become permanent in perpetuity, the new norm,” said Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, citing proposed cuts in the Revenue Department where she works.

House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena, said, “These cuts hurt people, and these cuts were made at the insistence of the other party.”

Responded Ballance: “There’s more than enough to blame to go around.”

She said there are still other bills pending before the special session that could reduce the cuts.

“Not getting to a solution on Day One doesn’t mean we walk away,” she said. “We keep working on it.”