Week 6 began with a big increase in the number of bills before the House and indeed before the committees. We had the longest day thus far on Monday when we heard 18 bills and ran 45 minutes long. The effect was to make the committees late as well but as Joyce always says, “You signed up for it” and she is right. It is a great honor to serve as your voice in the state legislature.
My sub-committee had the last of our hearings during the week. Transportation was the final department of the six we had before us. Week seven will be comprised mostly of setting the budget for the departments. That is done through what is called decision packages or DP. These are requests from the Governor to add to the base budget agreed on during the first day of meetings in sub-committee.
The biggest budget discussion concerned the Governor’s lowering the required vacancies from 6% to 2%. This created a big increase in funding for most of the departments and that added large amounts to the budget. Our job in sub-committee was to determine the best funding increase, taking into account the increase supported by the executive and what the departments need to do the job we are requiring them to do. One of the biggest factors there was how much increase would be best for the tax payer-you.
When all the sub-committees are done with their executive action, i.e. voting on the budgets for the departments, we will all come together and form the budget for the state for the next two years. Believe me, it is quite an undertaking, and a heavy responsibility, but I love what we do. The goal from the approps perspective is to work to a $200 million ending fund balance with another $100 million total in the fire fund and the budget stabilization fund. Currently that looks like a very doable objective.
The state wide pay plan passed out of the House and is in the Senate for their wise consideration. The plan calls for a 50 cent raise each of the two years of the biennium. The other big dollar bill is the school funding bill. Getting it out early is important because it allows the schools throughout Montana to plan their budgets, not to mention it didn’t evolve into a big political fight. I believe both of these bills were a bi-partisan effort to do what is right for our employees and the state in general.
The plan, when we come back home during the first full week in March, is to have a town hall meeting with all three legislators. More on this as it is finalized. Once again, if you wish to contact me please call 951-6764 or text me at the same number.