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Republicans Discuss Likelihood Of Special Session To Fix State Budget

Montana House of Representatives.
Montana Public Radio
Montana House of Representatives.

A special legislative session may be the only way for Montana to fix its budget, wrecked by an over projection of incoming revenue and an expensive fire season, according to conservative leaders in the House and Senate.

A 200 million dollar hole sits between Governor Steve Bullock and the state requirement of a balanced budget.

The budget, passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor this spring, was blown up by firefighting costs running tens of millions of dollars over budget and $282 million assumption error in how much revenue would come into the state.

Bullock has the power to cut his way out of a budget deficit, but he’ll need legislators to approve other solutions to fix the shortfall.

Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Hertz, from Polson, says his party is preparing to come back to Helena.

“Well, I don’t think anybody in the legislature wants to come back for a special session," Hertz said. "But in order to fix the fire fund, it’s our only option. I think most legislators realize that.”

Last week, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Legislative Finance Committee unanimously voted in favor of sending a letter to Governor Bullock. They urged him to reconsider some of the proposed 10 percent cuts to state agencies under review by the executive in order to balance the budget.

The letter said the governor’s current proposal would harm some of the most vulnerable people in the state, although it did not give any specific recommendations for how the governor might avoid making those budget cuts.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Fred Thomas, from Stevensville says it’s the governor’s responsibility to manage cuts to state government.

“This is his job, not ours.” Thomas said.

Thomas adds lawmakers may need to step in and help if cuts aren’t enough to fix the state’s budget crisis and refill the state’s firefighting fund.

Thomas says there isn’t a plan yet for where that money will come from, but Republicans will resist tax increases, which Democrats are advocating for.

Governor Bullock says he’s speaking with lawmakers about how to move forward, but has yet to announce if, or when, a special session could be held.

The last special session was called in 2007, by then-governor Brian Schweitzer for the purpose of transferring money to pay for firefighting.

State law allows a special session to be called by the governor or through a vote by lawmakers. But at this point, legislators are waiting for Bullock to make the next move.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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