State budget bill passes first vote in Montana House

The House of Representatives holds a full-day session on March 19, 2019 to debate House Bill 2, which sets the state’s spending for the next two years. (Shaylee Ragar / UM Legislative News Service)

(UM Legislative News Service) On Tuesday, the Montana House of Representatives passed House Bill 2, which combines $10 billion of state and federal funding to run state agencies for the next two years. The bill passed on a vote of 54-46.

House Minority Leader Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, along with every other House Democrat, voted against the bill.

Schreiner said he’s opposed to the cuts to full-time positions in the state health and human services department and not appropriating the roughly $30 million for public preschools.

“I think we are close, but we are not there. We had an opportunity today to solve some of these problems, to lead with solutions, and we didn’t do that,” Schreiner said.

The bill does include about $14 million for a higher ed tuition freeze, but only $2 million for need-based aid for higher education, not the $5 million requested by Gov. Steve Bullock.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said the House Appropriations Committee had to make tough decisions following big cuts made to the budget during the 2017 regular and special sessions. But, she says she was proud of their work.

“It was an unusual situation that we walked into. It was very, very different from what we normally see. We were down as we started this budget. We made the decision not to raise taxes and we are structurally balanced,” Ballance said.

Most amendments to the bill, like providing additional funding the state public defender’s office, failed to pass the House.

The bill will face one more vote before being sent to the Senate.

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