Montana Senate approves budget with $53M in additional spending

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – The Montana Senate on Tuesday passed the state’s two-year budget 29-20, adding more than $53 million to what the House proposed, with nearly $19 million of that coming from the state’s general fund.

Llew Jones

Chair of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee Llew Jones, R-Conrad, says the bipartisan work on the budget this session has probably been the best he’d ever seen.

“The package that exists now is a good, solid package that will take care of Montana’s needs,” Jones said.

Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, voted against the main budget bill, or House Bill 2. She says there’s still work to be done when it comes to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Because we didn’t take care of our problems for our abused and neglected children, we didn’t take care of our problems for our senior citizens and people with disabilities, we didn’t support the workers who care for those folks and the workers who care for those children,” Caferro said.

About 40 percent of the budget is made up of the state’s general fund — which is essentially the state’s main checking account. Public education and health and human services take the biggest chunk out of that part of the budget.

The House passed the budget in March, and now has to approve the Senate’s changes before the budget moves to the governor. If the House rejects it, the budget will go to what’s called a free conference committee, which is made up of members of both houses.

That committee can change any aspect of the bill. Then it would need to pass through the House and Senate again before it hits the governor’s desk.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.