MT Legislators Debated the Reality of $227 Million Budget Hole, Tied Governor’s Hands in Refilling Cuts
A lot has been made of the 227 million dollar hole in the Montana budget that spurred the Special Session of the Montana Legislature this week, but according to Legislative Finance Committee Chair Nancy Balance, one of the big debates among republicans was whether or not the deficit was real.
"We actually don't know that the budget shortfall was even real and we won't know that until, probably, the middle of next year," Ballance said." The problem is that it is all based on a forecast, an estimate of what's going to happen by the middle of 2019 and that crystal ball is not available to anyone, but we came in and we fixed it, but it may turn out that it wasn't real."
Many have speculated that Montana’s Revenue issues may change after new tax policy at the federal level: they believe speculators are holding out on reporting capital gains and that personal income is currently under-reported. Balance says the legislature placed extra rules for Governor Steve Bullock to follow if the budget picture does change.
"Typically, the executive branch has the option of putting the money back where they want it, but we didn't want that to happen, we wanted to have some say in how that went back: which funds it went back to and what the priorities were," Ballance said. "So we set that in statute, we reduced the governor's cuts in appropriations, so he can't do that without following the plans we laid out."
Balance says money must first go to the general fund, then to a budget stabilization fund and to alleviate pressure caused by the cuts. Even money filling the gas caused by cuts was directed by the legislature: Balance says it must go to most vulnerable populations under Health and Human Services first.