HELENA — How much does it cost to run Montana’s state agencies for two years? Just about $10 billion, according to the current draft of the state’s primary spending measure, House Bill 2, now winding its way through the legislative process.

The bill, which passed the House Appropriations Committee March 11, represents a slight decrease from Gov. Steve Bullock’s executive proposal. It’s slated for an all-day hearing on the House floor March 18, which will give Republicans and Democrats alike a chance to debate its merits and offer amendments.

The official House Bill 2 narrative, prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Division, runs to 587 pages of gritty detail. Since that’s plenty for lawmakers — much less the general public — to wrap their heads around, the Montana Free Press has used data provided by LFD to present the proposal as an interactive visualization.

The state’s funding sources are shown on the left. Flows to the right show how funding is allocated to state agencies, and then how those agencies plan to spend it. The “state special revenue” label, for example, represents special-purpose fees like gas taxes collected for road maintenance. On the spending side, “personal services” indicates money spent to compensate state employees.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee endorsed a stripped-down version of the governor’s proposed budget, most notably cutting staffing authorization for 100 currently vacant positions from the Department of Public Health and Human Services, or DPHHS. The Republican haircut, which totaled $30.1 million, represents less than 0.3 percent of the overall 2020-2021 budget.

The health department, which administers federally funded programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, spends nearly as much as the state’s education, transportation, and corrections departments combined. Two-thirds of its $4.3 billion budget for 2020 and 2021 is sourced to federal coffers. Most of its spending, $3.5 billion, is paid out to individual Montanans and health-care providers as benefits or claims.

The Office of Public Instruction constitutes a bigger direct pull on the General Fund, the state’s primary checkbook. The lion’s share of OPI’s two-year budget, $1.7 billion, is routed to Montana school districts. Through the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education, or OCHE, the budget bill calls for transferring $480 million over two years to the Montana University System.

Other big spenders in HB 2 include the Montana Department of Transportation at $1.4 billion — about 60 percent of that coming from the federal government — and the Department of Corrections at $450 million.

Before HB 2g becomes law, it must pass both the House and Senate, and then clear the governor’s desk. Individual line items can be amended at any stage of the process.

Additionally, there is substantial spending under discussion in the Capitol that would be covered by bills other than HB 2, including dueling measures to renew Montana’s 2015 HELP Act Medicaid expansion and bills that would fund hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure projects.

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.