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MT Special Session Leads to More Questions Over Budgetary Future

The Montana special session brought deals to fix the budget, but national politics could throw a wrench into the mix. (Justin Brockie/Flickr)
The Montana special session brought deals to fix the budget, but national politics could throw a wrench into the mix. (Justin Brockie/Flickr)
December 20, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – The conclusion of the special legislative session has left more questions than answers for Montanans and the future of the state's budget.

While a patchwork of deals appeared to cover most of the $227 million budget hole, Eric Feaver, president of the public employees' union MEA-MFT, says there were no long-term fixes to be found.

More than 50 state employees will lose their jobs from cuts, and Feaver says the Legislature's decision to temporarily charge the Montana State Fund a 3 percent management fee on assets worth more than $1 billion is a two-year fix at most.

"It doesn't solve the ongoing problem that we have in Montana,” he stresses. “We do not have enough revenue to pay for what we have to do, and that's in education, corrections, and in health care. And everybody knows that. And so the Legislature didn't solve its serious funding problem."

The fee on the Montana State Fund will raise about $30 million.

Other fixes from the Legislature included temporarily suspending funds to the judges' retirement system and revising laws related to school block grants. Lawmakers will also transfer $40 million to fire suppression costs for next year.

Politics at the national level throw another wrench into the budget mix.

Feaver says over the next two years, Congress' tax bill could lead to a loss in revenue that would double the deficit the state faced going into the special session.

"Double those dollars and you're looking at $400-500 million that somehow or another the Legislature must find in order to continue to do what we're doing now – not what we would aspire to do, not growing programs, simply to maintain what we have now after we've left this special session," he points out.

Feaver says advocates for good government have to show it's important to have the proper revenue streams to public sectors such as health, education and corrections.

He makes a comparison to the issue of school bonds. While folks typically are adverse to taxes, he says school bonds pass easily in most parts of Montana.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT