Lawmakers Look for Cuts As Budget Hits Senate

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The state’s main budget bill hit a Senate committee Wednesday as competing priorities threaten to chew through a projected surplus.

The Senate Finance Committee was told that the $9 billion plan spends $5 million less in state money than requested by Gov. Steve Bullock, but spends $94 million more in total due to more federal money flowing through the budget.

The House unanimously approved the budget last month even though both sides said plenty of issues remain.

The governor’s budget director, Dan Villa, told the Senate panel that House Bill 2 was “very close” to reaching the priorities established by Bullock that include maintaining a projected surplus of $300 million and “structural balance where we do not spend more than we take in.”

Committee chairman Sen. Rick Ripley of Wolf Creek said Wednesday that he mostly agrees. The Republican said he will also be looking to trim parts of the main budget. But he said most of the budget issues come from other policy proposals still alive in the Legislature that collectively promise to eat up the state’s $400 million surplus over the next two years.

“My personal opinion is that House Bill 2 is not that far out of line,” Ripley said.

One of the bigger issues remaining is expected to come up Friday. Democrats want to restore federal family planning money axed in the House by Republicans opposed to Planned Parenthood, a proposal that will face a tough time gathering Republican votes.

“I am not looking to add much money to House Bill 2,” Ripley said.

Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso said most of his concern is focused on spending measures outside of House Bill 2, such as several Republican tax cut proposals working through the system. He said the main budget only needs smaller adjustments.

“Putting more money in it is not necessarily what we agree is the right move at this point,” Sesso said. “The good news is House bill 2 is in pretty darn good shape.”

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