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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

State budget advances out of Senate and returns to House

The state’s roughly $14 billion budget has advanced out of the Senate with few amendments and will return to the House for consideration. Senators added some funding, like a boost for health care providers.

The budget originates each session in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers piece it together line item by line item.

The state Senate then gets to put its own fingerprints on it, which Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick said has been difficult this session.

“From a fiscal point of view, I think this has been the hardest session that I’ve seen. And the reason is because there’s so much money, in fact, I think the problem is there’s too much money,” Fitzpatrick said.

Lawmakers have been contending with a $2.5 billion surplus. They allocated about half of it early in the session with a package of bills to cut taxes, give tax rebates and pay off general obligation debt.

There’s still an ongoing debate over how much the state will increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers. The House proposed bringing up those rates to around 90-95% of the average cost of doing business. The state Senate approved a bump to get rates closer to 100%, but still short of the mark.

Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers spoke on the matter.

“That was approved almost unanimously. I think there was one or two no votes. And that was really encouraging and I think a huge step," Flowers said.

Democrats say that’s an improvement, but they’re pushing for $10 million more for providers.

Democrats also brought proposals to fund the cost of free and reduced lunches for low-income students and to spend more money on housing, but those efforts failed.

The budget will now head back to the House. Lawmakers must complete their work in the next eight days.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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