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Bullock Suggests Pulling From Rainy Day Fund To Avoid Cuts, Protect Services

In this archive photo, Governor Steve Bullock stands at a podium with an array of state and tribal nation flags behind him. Lt. Governor Mike Cooney stands at his right hand and Montana Budget Director Tom Livers stands to his left. All men are wearing suits.
Corin Cates-Carney
Archive photo: Governor Steve Bullock announced his budget priorities for the upcoming 2019 legislative session, Thursday, November 15. Bullock was joined by Lt. Governor Mike Cooney (left) and Montana Budget Director Tom Livers (right).

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock proposed a two-year state budgeton Nov. 16 that he says preserves essential services while boosting education and infrastructure spending. YPR News’ Kevin Trevellyan reports it’s the two term Democratic governor’s final budget proposal.

During a news conference at the capitol, Bullock proposed using $75 million, or two thirds of the state’s rainy day reserve, to offset revenue drop offs from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Bullock says transferring reserve dollars allows Montana to avoid cutting essential services or raising taxes, as other states have done this year.

“If the next administration and Legislature choose to cut government services, it will be based on ideology, not based on necessity,” Bullock said.

Republican state legislative leaders have repeatedly called on Bullock to cut state spending during the pandemic, a move the outgoing governor has rebuffed in favor of tapping budget reserves.

A spokesperson for Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, who will succeed Bullock next year, said in a statement that Gianforte looks forward to reviewing the proposed budget but he “thinks it’s critical to hold the line on new state spending.” In January, Gianforte will unveil his own budget proposal to be considered by the Legislature.

Bullock suggests spending $12.6 billion in state, special and federal funds over the next two fiscal years. He said the overall budget is a 1.6 percent increase over the previous biennium.

A $499 million infrastructure package, with almost a fifth of that in bonding, headlines the proposal. The Legislature approved about $400 million in infrastructure spending last year, which Bullock says spurred job growth in both rural and urban areas.

“And we need to continue to make sustainable investments in infrastructure in order to provide good paying jobs and maintain economic growth into the future, particularly as the global pandemic continues on,” Bullock said.

Infrastructure proposals include a new forest conservation and science lab at the University of Montana and a new veterinary and agricultural analytical lab. The budget also reserves additional funding for the Southwest Montana Veterans Home, currently under construction in Butte.

Bullock is also calling for an extra $72 million for K through 12 education over the next two fiscal years and a $10 million investment in early childhood education. His budget includes an $18 million increase in university spending over the biennium and $4.6 million in need based aid for residents seeking two or four year degrees at state universities and colleges.

Bullock also proposes extra money for correctional system mental health services, suicide prevention, Medicaid expansion and Indigenous economic development and language preservation programs.