Deal to Fix Montana’s Budget Problems Could Be Near

Deal entails a combination of budget cuts, moving funds around and temporary tax increases

By Dillon Tabish
Gov. Steve Bullock speaks in the Montana State Capitol. Beacon File Photo

HELENA — A deal to fix the state’s budget problems could materialize in the coming days, and a special session could follow soon after, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget director said on Wednesday.

The governor’s office has been working with legislative leaders to come up with the framework of a deal that would plug the $227 million hole in the budget, Lee Newspapers reported .

The deal entails a combination of budget cuts, moving funds around and temporary tax increases.

The governor would make cuts to state agencies under a law that allows him to reduce agency spending by up to 10 percent, budget director Dan Villa said. Adjustments such as fund transfers and cuts would also come to some agency budgets that the governor can’t reduce unilaterally.

The last part of the deal entails about $75 million in temporary tax increases and revenue enhancements.

Lawmakers have made clear they would only raise taxes temporarily to pay for the state’s firefighting costs, which have reached $74.2 million after more than a million acres burned across the state this summer, Villa said.

Villa said the deal could materialize this week and he hopes a special session will take place before Thanksgiving.

Republican Sen. Llew Jones, however, said not all Republicans are in support of the proposals. Jones called the cuts a mere “menu” option.

Republicans are only interested in using temporary tax increases to pay the fire bill, Jones said.

“Montanans saw the smoke, they smelled the smoke, in some places you could bite the smoke, so there is some belief you could have a two-year potential mix of taxes to deal with the fire bill,” he said. “There will be Republicans, whether temporary or not, who will never vote for tax increases. … There will be others who say, ‘Look we got to pay our fire bill and it’s the right thing to do.'”

Villa said the governor’s office would not produce a list of what it would end up cutting until a deal on tax increases and other budget adjustments is reached.

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