HELENA – The Bullock administration Thursday outlined where it will restore nearly $46 million in state spending this year, thanks to tax revenue that rebounded from low points in 2017.
The money will partially restore budgets that had been cut within the last year, after state tax revenue failed to hit certain targets. The revenue shortage also led to a special session of the Legislature in November, when lawmakers approved more cuts and some budget transfers to avoid further reductions.
The largest chunk of the restored funds – about $30 million – goes to human services, which saw the biggest cuts.
“It’s been hard on our employees, it’s been hard on our (health-care) providers and our patients, most importantly, but we’re making everybody as whole as we possibly can,” said Dan Villa, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget director.
Human-service programs having restored funds include Medicaid rates for health-care providers, case management for the mentally ill, dental and orthodontic care for the poor, and child-protective services.
The money also includes $3.2 million in state funds to raise the wages for workers at private group homes that serve the disabled and nursing homes that serve the poor, on Medicaid.
A bill to fund the increased wages didn’t take effect last year, because it was tied to revenue hitting certain targets. The administration decided to use the restored funds to fund the wages this year, Villa said.
He also said the restored funds will set a new budget floor for these programs going into the 2019 Legislature, so they will get a higher budget in fiscal 2020 and 2021 without the Legislature having to approve it. However, the Legislature could still vote to reduce that funding if it chose.
Villa warned that while the administration is restoring funds now, because of an improved revenue outlook, the future for state tax-revenue growth looks fairly flat – unless there are changes in tax policy.
“New expenditures will be more difficult in future fiscal years,” he said.
Villa, who’s leaving the budget office this year to become head of the Board of Investments, also dismissed critics who have suggested the Bullock administration overreacted by calling the November special session, since tax revenue has rebounded.
“Anybody who says there wasn’t a need for a special session is being political,” he said. “They’re not looking at the math, they’re not looking at the numbers. … We didn’t have the cash on hand to be able to pay our bills.”
Other details of the restored funds include:
- About $900,000 a year to finance the state’s share of expenses for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water rights compact.
- More than $2.2 million for the state Justice Department, including $1 million for the state Motor Vehicle Division.
- Nearly $1 million for the state Department of Revenue.
- About $2 million to create a need-based financial air program for students in the state university system.