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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Democrats say budget surplus should fund housing, child care and mental health

Montana Capitol, Helena, MT.
William Marcus
/
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol, Helena, MT.

With the next legislative session still six months away, Montana Democrats are eyeing a surplus in the state budget of upwards of a billion dollars. They’re proposing investments in affordable housing, child care and mental health care.

State finance experts at the Legislative Fiscal Division are projecting tax revenues to pull in an estimated $1.7 billion surplus. They attribute the windfall to a variety of factors including a strong stock market and a national economy stimulated by federal dollars.

Montana Democratic lawmakers say they have a plan for that money.

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott and other legislators presented their proposal outside the state Capitol Wednesday.

“We’re hearing over and over again that it’s hard to live in the community where you work, businesses are having trouble hiring,” Abbott said. “It’s hard for folks who want to re-enter the workforce who got hit incredibly hard over the last two years to find child care that’s affordable.”

Democrats want to direct $500 million to affordable housing initiatives, $250 million to property tax relief, $125 million to aid child care providers and parents who need it, and $125 million to expand access to mental health care.

In a statement, Republican Senate Majority Leader Cary Smith said the state’s strong economy is due to Republican-backed policies, like tax cuts. Smith says Republicans “look forward to continuing to be good stewards of Montana’s economy and providing further tax relief for Montanans."

Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a response to the proposal that he invites Montana Democrats to join in calling for President Joe Biden to “stop the reckless spending and get inflation under control.”

The Legislative Fiscal Division says the growth in revenue is volatile and bound to change given the factors they attribute to creating the surplus, like one-time only federal stimulus funds. The analysis projects the revenue increase to spike and then fall off by at about 10% in coming years.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.