Montana’s biennial legislative session gets underway on Monday, January 7, and Chair of the House Finance Committee Nancy Ballance provides a preview of the upcoming 90 day session.

Ballance said discussions about Governor Steve Bullock’s proposed budget will begin in a different place than in years past, due to last year’s special session.

“The real starting point is where we left off, because we had a special session and some restoration funds, so we’ll start in a different place,” said Ballance. “Then it takes the first six weeks or so to go through each of the governor’s requests, and then each one of those will be handled individually.”

Ballance said the budget picture looks much more clear this time out.

“The revenue looks good,” she said. “We’ve got revenue to cover the expenses that are in law, and we also have enough for an ending fund balance that we like to set at about $200 million, and then our budget stabilization reserve fund at about $100 million, so we’ll be looking good. We’ll be able to handle all the budget issues in law, and then the bargaining begins.”

Ballance said the legislature won’t have much trouble funding Medicaid expansion that is due to sunset in 2019.

“The funding for Medicaid expansion is already there in our regular revenue numbers, so we don’t have to do anything extraordinary to fund Medicaid expansion,” she said. “We are asking about opportunities to put controls on it so that those who truly need it can receive it. We also include things like work requirements, some asset testing, and possibly drug testing, so a lot of discussion will go on around Medicaid expansion.”

Ballance said Republicans once again plan to hold the line on the same tax increases proposed last session by minority Democrats.

“They’re the same taxes they talked about during the regular session in 2017 as well as the special session, and nothing has changed,” she said. “There’s no appetite to raise taxes.”

Ballance said she does not expect any problems that may lead to another special session.

Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the state legislature.

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