Montana could see as much as $106 million in additional revenue come into the state than was previously unexpected. But lawmakers are approaching this news with some caution as they create the state’s budget.
The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Division is projecting the additional revenue to flow into state coffers over the next three years, as the state recovers from a dip in earnings after a decline created, in part, by lower sales of coal, oil, and gas.
The $106 million projected increase to the Legislature’s revenue forecast was released Monday afternoon, days after the House of Representatives passed a state budget along party lines.
Democratic House Minority Leader Jenny Eck from Helena says there are still a lot of gaps in the budget bill that are concerning — including funding for state health department programs that assist senior citizens and people with disabilities.
But Eck says lawmakers need to be careful at looking at the new revenue projections:
"It’s always tempting to jump for joy when you see numbers like this, and certainly I would be very worried if it were going to the other direction. But we just need to refrain from being overly optimistic, or acting too much on these positive numbers, and we’re protecting ourselves."
Eck says lawmakers don’t want to end up sending money that isn’t actually there.
The Legislative Fiscal Division says the biggest factor contributing to a bump in state revenues is an increase in individual income tax and corporation income tax. The new report did not come with a margin for error.
Nancy Ballance, the Republican Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, says if lawmakers to vote to increase the amount of money they consider building into the budget, it will likely be less than the $106 million projected in increased revenue:
"What we don't want to do is find ourselves like we came into this session where, maybe the revenue goes back down later in the year, and we have allocated more spending and then we come back in and have to cut someplace. That wouldn't make any sense, so we will definitely be conservative with it."
The governor's budget director also expressed concern that the legislative revenue estimates could be overstated, saying it would be responsible to err on the conservative side of the projections because agriculture and natural resource commodity prices remain low.