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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

MT's budget on track

Analysts expect Montana’s budget surplus to be slightly higher than previous predictions.

The estimate comes from the Legislative Fiscal Division. It now predicts the state will have nearly $353 million left in the bank at the end of this budget cycle. That’s almost $6 million higher than estimates in December.

Conrad Republican Senator Llew Jones chairs the Legislative Finance committee, which looks at the budget between Legislative sessions. He said, overall, the budget is staying right about where it should.

“Like anything, when you forecast two years out, things tend to change and it’s always nice if you stay relatively close to the forecast,” Jones said.

There are a lot of little reasons for these positive budget changes, but not everything is positive.

There are a couple of agency budgets lawmakers on the finance committee are watching closely. The office of the state Public Defender is looking to be $2 million in the hole by the end of this budget cycle, partly due to an increase in caseloads for the state’s defense attorneys. Also, the Department of Public Health and Human Services expects to be over $9 million in the hole.

Great Falls Democratic Senator and committee member Mitch Tropila said those shortfalls are no real cause for alarm at this point.

“But it’s nice to know about issues, money issues, earlier rather than later,” he said. “It’s like anybody. I have a checkbook, you have a checkbook. You always have to check your balances and you always have to take stock of where you’re at.”

The Legislative Finance Committee will be taking stock of the state’s checkbook again in a couple months.

Lawmakers will begin the next budget setting process next January.