As the big issue continue to work their way through the process it might appear as though the legislature should be almost finished with its work. That notion is far from being accurate. Approps has over $133m worth of bills competing for the small pot of money still available.
The biggest bill of all, House Bill 2, is still in the Senate where it has passed the Finance and Claims committee and is set to have second reading today on the floor of the Senate. It passed out of committee with few amendments and looks to be posed to do the same today. If that holds true it is very possible it will be concurred with in the House and a big challenge would be averted. That would be a very good thing. Remember, the only thing were are constitutionally required to do is pass a balance budget.
The Medicaid bill (HB 658) was tabled in a committee in the Senate but was soon brought back and sent to Senate Finance and Claims where it is scheduled for a hearing today as well. In the House it had 11 amendments brought but none passed and in Approps it passed 16 to 6. On the floor of the House, for third reading, it passed 61 to 37.
A very important point to know, but is little discussed, is the hit to the general fund that is projected to happen if HB 658 doesn’t pass. It is in the neighborhood of $55m. This hit is due to the number of people currently on Montana Medicaid that would shift to Federal Medicaid, which is much more expensive. Some legislators, and in the general public, argue that we should kill HB 658 because of the vote on I-185 but I doubt if they understand the consequences of that action.
Both HB 2 and HB 658 have been factored into the budget since we knew they were going to be big hitters this session. Prior planning on the budget is critical if we indeed are going to pass a balanced budget.
The big question up here is when will we be done and go home. Some are pushing for completion before Easter (April 21, 6-8 days early) and that may be possible but I personally doubt it. I believe it is better to slow down a little to be sure we do the job correctly. Several mistakes were made during the special session last year due to moving too fast. Accuracy and knowing what our final product will be is are as important as speed.