The Republican party’s keystone bill to patch the state budget passed Montana’s House and Senate Wednesday afternoon nearly along party lines.
House Bill 2 is a package of bills Republican leaders are pressing forward with. Democrats say HB 2 handcuffs them into choosing between the better of two evils. House Bill 2 is the Republicans’ plan to make permanent the $76 million in budget cuts Governor Steve Bullock put in place Tuesday.
But they’re offering him an out - if state revenues increase beyond projections in the next 19 months
That option to keep the cuts temporary, though, comes with strings attached.
Republicans want the governor to extend the contract for CoreCivic to run Montana’s only private prison near Shelby. The state would get $30 million that’s been set aside to buy the prison in 2019, and CoreCivic would get a ten year extension on its contract to run it.
Billings Democrats Kelly McCarthy says linking the bills is forcing an unnecessary choice.
"It is not required for this special session."
Governor Bullock's administration opened the special session with an offer of the budget cuts enacted Tuesday, state fund transfers and temporary tax increases to balance the state budget. Montana is $227 million short of meeting the budget lawmakers passed this spring.
Republican Nancy Ballance defended the majority derailing the governor’s plans. On the House Floor Wednesday she said that the more options on the table to fix the budget, the better. This option, she says, also puts checks on how the governor can spend additional revenue if it comes in.
Throughout the evening lawmakers are expected to flesh out, and possibility finalize, their proposals for balancing the state budget.