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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Montana: Budgeting and Policy in the Treasure State


The 65th Montana Legislature ended its constitutionally mandated 90-day biennium sessionwith a $10.3 billion, two-year all funds budget in late April 2017. The Republican-controlled legislaturereturned to its contentious tradition. There were several “big issues,” but due to budgetshortfalls, few policy issues were resolved. Infrastructure bills generally failed although the firstgas tax in decades passed to help with infrastructure. Campaign finance (raising the spendinglimits) was an issue, which seems to be a tradition in the state (Grant 2017). Montana’s collegesand 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 legislativesession that produced very few results and resolved few problems. The balanced budget lastedless than two months when revenue projections turned out to be wrong and the governor hadto use his authority to further cut expenses, which included layoffs and additional cuts to stateagencies and services. The governor has limitations on how much he or she can cut, which ledobservers to suggest that a special session may be needed to fix the budget. Due to a historic fireseason, the state’s firefighting budget was drained, and the state’s fragile economy was adverselyaffected. 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 fundsand budget across most agencies. Unfortunately, as the fall season began, the state budget appearedto be in shambles only months after the session adjourned.

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