State GOP Leaders Gather To Discuss Budget Issues – Possible Special Session
On Wednesday, top Republican state leaders gathered in a conference call with the media to discuss their views of the current budget crisis in Montana.
There is currently a $200 million shortfall in crafting a constitutionally mandated balanced budget.
Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen began by calling out Governor Steve Bullock for making budget cuts that would cause the most damage to needed services.
"The governor has at his disposal the authority to make budget cuts as necessary," Knudsen began. "The proposed cuts he has put out there in the media and other places are designed to be very graphic cuts in services to boots on the ground, with very few cuts to any bureaucracy in Helena."
Knudsen said Governor Bullock basically took the budget that the legislature had passed, 'wadded it up and threw it in the wastebasket'.
"A special session to raise revenues or to cut state government is not a given here," he said.
State Budget Committee Chair Nancy Balance said her group had received numerous pleas from state agencies and individuals about proposed budget cuts.
"The committee received thousands of emails, phone calls and postal mail, and then we took about eight hours of testimony on the first day of the meeting," said Balance. "This was just to give the public a chance to say to the governor, to the agencies, to the legislature, here are the things that we see that are of concern to us."
Chair of the Finance and Claims Committee, Llew Jones, provided some numbers for reporters to digest about the cost of wildfires in 2017.
"It starts with a seven, a $70 million fire bill," Jones said. "We know that fire bill consumed our entire firefighting fund that was left, which was $35 million, it consumed our $16 million emergency fund, and required that the DNRC (Department of Natural Resources and Conservation) transfer some next-year monies to this year. So, we now know we have zero dollars to fight fires or to deal with any emergencies next year."
State law says a special session may be called by the governor, or through a vote of legislators.