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Government & Politics

Montana's Firefighting Fund Full Heading Into Heart Of Season

Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock delivers an update on the state's fire suppression fund and other financial reserves Aug. 17, 2020.

Montana’s firefighting fund is full for the first time in state history amid what Gov. Steve Bullock is calling strong overall budget reserves.

Bullock said during a press call on Aug. 17 that his office transferred about $46 million to the fire suppression fund on Aug. 15, hitting the statutory cap of more than $101 million.

“A fire fund filled to the brim is an important cushion to have at this time,” Bullock said.

Bullock said the money came from state agencies that finished the last fiscal year under budget. By law, such savings must be transferred to the fire fund. Because that reserve is full, an additional $40 million in unspent agency dollars will stay in the general fund.

Bullock said the fire fund is large enough to cover nearly five average fire seasons. As of Friday, the state had only spent about $2.5 million fighting wildfires.

Bullock also said Monday that the state’s rainy day reserve remains capped at about $114 million for the second year in a row. With the general fund and reserves totaling $620 million, Bullock said there’s no need to slash essential services.

The Democratic governor, also running for a U.S. Senate seat, has rebuffed state Republican lawmakers’ calls for immediate budget cuts in the face of expected revenue shortfalls due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. State legislative staff predict the rainy day fund will last through next fiscal year, but could be weaker by 2023.