MTPR

Special Session Needed To Deal With Deficit, Budget Director Says

Nov 1, 2017

The governor's office says a special legislative session could be called in the coming weeks as the administration and the conservative majority party inch closer to striking a deal on a plan to balance the state budget.

State Budget Director Dan Villa called reporters into his office Wednesday for a brief update on the ongoing political tug-of-war over state spending as Montana faces a $227 million revenue shortfall.

"We need to come to some sort of solution in the coming days, not weeks," Villa says. "We need to have a special session in the coming weeks."

Villa says ongoing talks with Republican leaders have outlined a plan that could serve as framework for a possible special legislative session. The plan would prevent the state from having to cut state agencies by the full 10 percent outlined by Governor Steve Bullock's administration in September.

According to the governor's office, the current framework for fixing the budget is built on rule of thirds: $75 million in temporary tax increases to pay the state’s fire bill, $75 million in legislative changes to shift around government money resulting in savings, and $75 million in cuts to state agencies

Conrad Republican Llew Jones, chair of the Senate finance committee, says some conservative leaders have agreed to this kind of strategy to fix the budget.

"There is a general thought process at this point in time that if you break the problem down into parts it becomes more solvable."

While the governor's office has offered a list of proposed tax increases and legislative adjustments to solve those pieces of the budget puzzle, Jones says nothing is officially on or off the table for consideration if lawmakers are called back to Helena for a special session.

Jones says some Republicans will be open to considering some temporary tax increases, but others have expressed zero interest in that option, and stated that the governor needs to make cuts to balance the budget.

The governor's office is pointing to the third week of November as a deadline for a budget solution, in order to be able to afford an $120 million payment to public schools.