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Montana: Budgeting and Policy in the Treasure State

  • Author(s): Greene, Jeffrey D
  • Barsky, Christina
  • et al.
Abstract

The 65th Montana Legislature ended its constitutionally mandated 90-day biennium session with a $10.3 billion, two-year all funds budget in late April 2017. The Republican-controlled legislature returned to its contentious tradition. There were several “big issues”, but due to budget shortfalls, few policy issues were resolved. Infrastructure bills generally failed although the first gas tax in decades passed to help with infrastructure. Campaign finance (raising the spending limits) was an issue, which seems to be a tradition in the state (Grant, 2017). Montana’s colleges and universities took significant cuts in their budgets and tuition increased roughly 13 percent. Except for K-12 programs, most state agencies’ budgets were cut. Overall, it was a grim legislative session that produced very few results and resolved few problems. The balanced budget lasted less than two months when revenue projections turned out to be wrong and the governor had to use his authority to further cut expenses, which included layoffs and additional cuts to state agencies and services. The governor has limitations on how much he or she can cut, which led observers to suggest that a special session may be needed to fix the budget. Due to a historic fire season, the state’s firefighting budget was drained and the state’s fragile economy was adversely affected. Tourists either left early or cancelled their plans due to the fires and smoke. Overall, there were not many winners in this legislative session. It was a session marked by lack of funds and budget across most agencies. Unfortunately, as the fall season began, the state budget appeared to be in shambles only months after the session adjourned.

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