HELENA — The Montana Legislature was fully back to business Tuesday after their transmittal break. Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to the state budget.
On Tuesday afternoon, the full House Appropriations Committee started what’s likely to be a full week of hearings on House Bill 2, the state’s main budget bill. HB 2 lays out about $4.5 billion in general fund spending over the next two years, along with billions more from state special revenue and federal funding.
Since the start of the legislative session, appropriations subcommittees have been making recommendations on each state agency’s budget requests. Over the next few days, the full committee will hear presentations on each of those recommended appropriations, consider any proposed amendments and then approve the version of HB 2 that will be debated on the House floor.
“In the end, this is a product that we will take to the floor, and that we are going to have to try to move forward,” said Republican Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad, who chairs the Appropriations Committee. “We have one constitutional obligation, and it’s this budget.”
Tuesday’s hearing focused on the first section of the budget: “general government,” which includes the legislative branch, the governor’s office and a variety of other state agencies. The committee will then move on to discussing the other four sections: education, natural resources and transportation, corrections and public safety, and public health and human services. That last section – by far the biggest – is set to be heard on Thursday.
Jones said the committee will hear presentations on each section, then move on to hear the next presentation before taking action on any proposed changes to the first section.
As the committee began their work Tuesday, they heard from Kurt Alme, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s budget director. Alme praised the subcommittees for finding “efficiencies” in the budget, but he urged them to support funding for efforts to address rising violent crime and identify the state’s health care needs.
Alme also told lawmakers the new federal COVID relief bill – the American Rescue Plan Act – could make up to $2.7 billion available for Montana through the end of 2024. He encouraged them to find ways to use that money for one-time payments and other efforts that would have long-term benefits for the state, but which wouldn’t establish extensive new programs that will last after the federal money runs out.
“We look forward to working with you over the weeks to come as you determine how best to use those funds in interaction with House Bill 2 for the greatest benefit for our state,” he said.