State Budget Discussions Continue, But No Deal Yet

Nov 3, 2017

Republican leaders say they have not yet struck a deal with Governor Steve Bullock on how to solve the state's current budget crisis. While talks between the conservative legislative majority and the executive have informally created a starting point for a potential special legislative session, a complete solution has still not been reached.

Earlier this week, the governor's budget director said that legislators and the governor needed to reach a deal to fix the state budget in the coming days. Today, Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen told reporters that there is still a lot of work to do.

"There certainly have been some discussions. But to say that we are close to a deal is grossly overstating where I think we are."

The governor's office is pointing to the third week of November as a deadline to make headway on a combination of  tax increases, legislative changes, and cuts to balance the state budget, in order to make payments to public schools, which are due at the end of November.

The state's general fund is expected to dip more than $37 million into the red later this month following those payments, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Montana Legislative Fiscal Division.

Republican leaders say there are other actions the governor can take to make those school payments without lawmakers help, and that shouldn't be linked to talk of a special session.

The Legislative Fiscal Division reports that the state could transfer money from the state’s treasury account in order to cover the pending cash shortfall. But the Governor’s Office doesn’t see that as a realistic option.

Governor Steve Bullock has outlined 10 percent cuts across state agencies, as required by statute, to balance the state’s budget.

Although both the executive and legislature agree the full extent of these cuts would hurt many Montanans who rely on social programs, they haven’t agreed on alternate plans to prevent these cuts from taking place.  

Democrats and Republicans will continue their negotiations in order to patch a state budget derailed by state revenues coming in more than $200 million below projections.