Montana Public Radio

State Finances Strong As Coronavirus Hits Montana, Lawmakers Say

Mar 23, 2020

Montana state lawmakers say the state government is flush with reserve cash as the COVID-19 pandemic creates economic uncertainty around the world. Analysts with the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division report the state’s level of cash reserves, currently sitting at $464 million, is relatively high compared to most years in the past.

Nancy Ballance, a Republican from Hamilton, is chair of the House appropriations committee.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-HD 87.
Credit Corin Cates-Carney / Montana Public Radio

"We’re all hoping it' just short term. We did not expect to be here. But the unexpected has caught us at a good time in terms of the state’s finances."

Ballance says if the state’s crisis response to the novel coronavirus extends longer than a couple months, the state will likely have to dip into its reserves.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of emergency order over COVID-19 opened up $16 million to spend on response efforts. Bullock would need approval from lawmakers to spend more than that.

It’s unlikely state lawmakers will need to meet in a special session to appropriate more funds for the government to run on. That’s according to Ryan Osmundson, a Republican from Buffalo, who chairs the Senate finance and claims committee.

"With the state that we’re in, it looks very good that we’re not going to have to go back into session until 2021."

Money was flowing into the state coffers a tick higher than lawmakers projected a year ago, but legislative analysts say recent events will likely bring that revenue in line with expectations.