Legislative Republicans plan to expand next week’s special session agenda, to include more options to fill Montana’s $227 million budget hole, MTN News has learned – including $32 million from an account controlled by the owner of the private prison in Shelby.
Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, also told MTN News Wednesday that other items in the expanded agenda will be lowering the required year-end balance of the state treasury and transferring more money out of the state employees’ health plan.
“Before I raise someone else’s taxes, or make cuts to health and human services, I don’t know why we wouldn’t look at making sure we can access that money, without putting that (health) fund under stress,” he said in an interview.
On Monday, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, ordered the Legislature into special session starting next Tuesday, to consider a narrow set of proposals to balance the budget.
The proposals include $76.5 million in budget transfers and $75 million from temporary tax increases, which need legislative approval. He also promised to order about $75 million in spending cuts.
But a majority of all 150 lawmakers can vote to expand the agenda – and Sales said Republicans plan to do that, using their majority muscle. They control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, or 91 total votes.
“I think the majority of our (Republican members) will agree that we just need some additional ideas out there in order to balance the budget,” Sales said. “This is going to give us the opportunity to work with Democrats and, hopefully the governor’s office, to explore more of these ideas in full.”
GOP leaders are drafting a proposed expansion with nine new items, including:
Once a majority of lawmakers agree to the expansion, bills to accomplish those goals can be introduced.
Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel said Wednesday the governor is committed to balancing the budget “in a responsible way,” and will work with any lawmakers who are “less interested in playing politics and more interested in finding solutions.”
Republicans leaders have said they’re not very interested in raising taxes to help balance the budget, even if those increases are temporary.