In my opinion the best way to describe the Herculean task before a small working group in Appropriations is like putting together two 1000 piece puzzles and one 500 piece puzzle, all with interconnecting pieces. Some pieces work in all three puzzles while others work in two and some only work in one. Trouble is, they are all the same color pieces.
As of this morning, we have 23 bills that have to have some positive action in the week we have left. The puzzle is complicated by the fact that many of them have to be done in a specific order in the process, partly because of transmittal dates and partly because of timing issues due to inter-connectivity.
Many of the bills require changes that have to be done in conference committee meetings and one has an expected mandatory veto by the Governor. He has line-item veto authority but has to explain his reasoning to both houses.
A couple of bills have good policy, but funding has been in question until we get to this point in the session when we have much better information about how the withholding is progressing. Almost 60% of the state’s general fund dollars come from withholding.
So, how are the remaining big bills coming along? The marijuana bill-HB 701- has passed out of the Senate amended and is scheduled to be on the House floor for second reading on Monday the 26. If it passes second reading, which I believe it will, it will come up for third reading on Tuesday. After that the next step is on to the Governor for his signature and it becomes law.
HB 632-the Beast- was not concurred with on second reading for the Senate amendments and is scheduled for a free conference committee meeting on Wednesday. It will probably be on the floor on Thursday. It has been constantly amended but I feel we have a good product that will work and help many areas of Montana with infrastructure, broadband and social needs.
That leaves us with the state’s budget-HB 2. Often this is one of the last bills to reach the floor before sine die is officially voted on. This year is no exception. Since we cannot legislate law in HB 2, companion bills are necessary if law is changed. This year four of the five sub committees have companion bills with the lone exception being my subcommittee, section C.
Financially the state of Montana is in excellent shape. We came out of the pandemic better than almost all of the states. I credit that fact to the fiscally conservative positions taken by the past several legislatures and the farsightedness of Appropriations leadership during that time. Implementation of the budget stabilization reserve account in 2015 as a place to put funds for future use has been very successful as has the fire fund, both of which are at their respective capped position. Any additional funds that become available from the budget stabilization account will go into a working rain day fund where the funds will be available to pay interest on bonding and repairs on state owned property.