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Chamber of Commerce: Special session could bring economic bump to Helena

(HELENA) Local business leaders say the upcoming special session of the Montana Legislature could bring a short, but sizable, economic boost to the Helena area.

Hotels around the city said Friday they’ve seen a jump in reservations for next week since the special session was announced on Monday.

Helena Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Cathy Burwell says she expects legislators to spend an average of $134 a day during the session. That would mean to a total of more than $20,000 for the local economy each day from the legislators alone – not including any staff or lobbyists who come into town.

“When they come to the regular session, a lot of them rent houses, and so they don’t go out to eat as often,” Burwell said. “They’ll be just coming for a short period of time and staying overnight in the hotels and eating out, so obviously a bigger impact.”

While Burwell says the session will be beneficial in the short term, she says the chamber is still concerned about long-term effects of the budget cuts that could come out of it.

The state is facing a projected budget deficit of $227 million. Gov. Steve Bullock is authorized to cut state agencies’ funding by 10 percent in order to close that gap. He called the special session in hopes of reaching a budget agreement that would reduce the amount he has to cut.

“If he has to make the full cuts, it will affect a lot of people in Helena, Montana, because we have the most employees,” Burwell said. “If a division loses 10 percent, that affects the Helena economy also.”

This special session is the first to be held in Montana since 2007.