HELENA — The chairwoman of Montana’s Legislative Audit Committee said Thursday she doubts the state can justify spending all of the $1.25 billion it expects to receive under the federal coronavirus relief bill.
The amount is nearly half of the state’s general fund spending for the financial year that ends June 30.
“There’s big bucks coming down with COVID-19, but it is not going to be a free-for-all,” Republican Sen. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse told the Legislative Council.
“All federal funding will be subject to Legislative Audit Committee oversight,” she said. ”It will have accountability.”
Gov. Steve Bullock appointed a 26-member Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force Wednesday to advise him on how to spend the $1.25 billion responsibly and quickly to help those financially impacted by the effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The administration doesn’t know yet how much it will spend, Bullock spokeswoman Marissa Perry said in a statement
“It’s too early to fully understand the economic impact of COVID-19, but we know many Montanans have been financially impacted during this crisis and need assistance now,” his office said.
The U.S. government has not yet provided guidance on how the relief funding can be spent, but initial indications are that it can’t be used to replace lost revenue from decreases in tax collections.
Another lawmaker, Republican Rep. Kenneth Holmlund of Miles City, told the Legislative Council that he was part of a call Thursday with other lawmakers and business leaders working to develop suggestions for a pragmatic way to re-open the economy while avoiding additional virus outbreaks.
He said they want to present their suggestions to the governor by Monday.
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