House Rejects Senate Amendments to Main Budget Bill

House Bill 2 now will go to a conference committee

By LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — The House rejected amendments added by the Senate to the two-year state budget bill on Wednesday, sending House Bill 2 to a conference committee charged with hammering out a final proposal.

Representatives voted 88-12 to reject the amendments.

House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said she doesn’t necessarily object to the amendments. But more works need to be done on the budget, such as addressing double-appropriated items and handling items that may still need to be added.

“We sent House Bill 2 out of here at about 5-1/2 percent increase over 2015,” Ballance said. “I think where it sits right now … it’s about a 6.3 increase, which is not bad.”

Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, agreed with Ballance, saying the conference committee is another chance to work out issues and figure out the best budget.

“A lot of work was done in the Senate,” he said. “Whether all that work was complete and whether we all agree on it now is the next step of compromise when it comes to these type of funding issues.”

The Senate’s budget is $23.5 million more than the roughly $10 billion biennial total that passed out of the House in March. It also includes $24 million in supplemental funding to backfill the current state budget, a provision that was killed in a rare move by the House.

The conference committee can add or subtract to the budget as it sees fit. After that process is complete, the bill will go back to each chamber for a vote on the changes. Committee members will likely discuss issues not currently in the budget such as funding for infrastructure projects, the proposed water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, state employee pay, Medicaid expansion and a proposal to expand access to preschool.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock threatened to veto the House budget, saying it failed to pay for critical services. He said the Senate version is more acceptable, but more could be done.