Montana lawmakers returned to Helena Monday to begin a special legislative session aimed at addressing the state's $227 million budget deficit. The governor has proposed filling the budget gap with a combination of cuts to state agencies and tax increases. But Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, have different plans.
- The private prison CoreCivic is offering to return $30 million in state money set aside for the eventual purchase of the 664-bed prison in exchange for a 10-year renewal on its contract to operate the facility. GOP lawmakers have signaled their intention to leave Governor Bullock with a $30 million hole in any solution they send to his desk. The goal, said Conrad Republican Rep. Rob Cook, is to give Bullock one option: negotiate a deal with CoreCivic or make deeper cuts to state government.
- Lawmakers Monday heard a proposal to temporarily charge a fee for state management of Montana's workers' compensation fund. The 3 percent management fee on Montana State Fund assets above $1 billion would raise an estimated $30 million, but drew strong opposition.
- Legislators are also considering increasing the number of liquor licenses the state issues, and auctioning them off as a way to raise revenue. An analysis of the bill says it would generate between $2.5 million and about $4 million per year for the state.
- A proposal by the governor asks property owners in eastern Montana to pay fees for fire preparedness that people in western parts of the state already pay. This would free-up $13 million in the state's general fund.
- If the Montana Legislature fails to pass a budget plan this week, the state’s eight university campuses could see their funding slashed by 10 percent. “It would challenge our ability to keep the doors open on some campuses,” says Kevin McRae, spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education.
- Public schools would share about 6 percent of the burden to fill the state’s $227 million dollar budget shortfall under the proposed Senate Bill 2. It would require school districts in Montana to start tapping into their reserve funds to pay for transportation costs, like buses, for students.
Learn how Montana's budget ended up over $200 million in the hole, and find out how special sessions work from veteran capitol reporter Chuck Johnson. You can find more news from the Montana Legislature right here any time.