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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Republicans Want To Expand The Scope Of Montana's Special Session

Montana Capitol.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol.

Republican state lawmakers say they want the special legislative session that starts Monday to be expanded beyond what Governor Steve Bullock is calling for.

Last week Bullock said he felt like he was close to having a budget deal with Republicans, but conservatives leaders say that’s not the case, and have their own plans.

Bullock’s proposal is to float the state through the current budget shortfall with a combination of budget cuts, temporary tax increases, and fund transfers between government accounts.

While some Republicans are on board with portions of that plan, many in the conservative majority in both the House and Senate are not interested in new taxes.

House Majority Leader Ron Ehli says Republicans will vote to force an expansion of the upcoming special session in order to consider other options.

"I think I’m very confident that we can get the expansion put in place," Ehli says.

In order to do anything in a special session that is not outlined by the governor, a majority of lawmakers must vote to expand the topics of the session.

The office of Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen issued a statement Thursday saying a petition to gather those votes were underway.

"Expanding" the special session could mean taking up a potential offer from the state's only private prison. It would give the state a $30 million bailout in exchange for the Bullock administration extending the company’s contact for another 10 years. The state’s contract with CoreCivic is set to expire in 2019.

Ehli says Republicans also want consider reducing the amount of money the state must have in its general fund bank account. They say this could prevent the need to raise taxes, the governor’s office says it could put the state’s bond rating at risk of downgrade.

Budget policy leaders on both sides of the aisle have discussed solutions for the state’s fiscal crisis with the governor’s office for several weeks. How those talks will translate in a fix for the state’s budget will be seen early next week.

The special session is scheduled to start with appropriations, business, and taxation hearings Monday morning, and then rules committees in the afternoon. The full House and Senate will gavel in on Tuesday.

See more Montana Politics and Legislature news here.

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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