montana bills 2023
Reams of paper printed with bills to be distributed to legislators are organized on shelves in an office in the Montana State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 26. Credit: Samuel Wilson / Bozeman Daily Chronicle

This story is excerpted from Capitolized, a twice-weekly newsletter that keeps an eye on the representatives you voted for (or against) with expert reporting, analysis and insight from the editors and reporters of Montana Free Press. Want to see Capitolized in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday? Sign up here.

Montana’s work-in-progress budget for the 2024-2025 biennium passed a wonky milestone last week as work by the Legislature’s appropriations committees progressed far enough for fiscal analysts to publish the session’s first General Fund status sheet.

The status sheet, which will be revised and republished periodically through the remainder of the session, is one of the main tools lawmakers use to ensure that the hundreds of bills under active consideration in the Capitol will produce the balanced budget required by the state Constitution.

The document includes an agency-by-agency breakdown of General Fund spending in the state’s main budget bill, House Bill 2, detailing how the current budget bill compares to the proposal put forward last fall by Gov. Greg Gianforte. It also lists other live bills with budget impact — more than 100 at the current count — and sums their cumulative effect on the state’s finances.

Here are the key stats:

  • $4.2 billion — Agency spending that would be authorized over the next two years by the Legislature’s working draft of House Bill 2. That’s 0.1% below the governor’s proposal.
  • $1.9 billion — Total amount of new spending and tax cuts proposed by other live bills.
  • $2.2 billion — The projected balance at the end of the fiscal year 2025.
  • $558 million — The amount by which revenues exceed proposed spending in fiscal year 2025.

Some caveats: First, note that these figures are specific only to the state General Fund, and don’t include special-purpose funding streams or federal dollars administered by state agencies.

Also, in an effort to avoid cluttering the list with bills that are unlikely to pass, the Legislative Fiscal Division employs strict rules for deciding what to include on its budget impact list. Generally, pending bills that have advanced out of their first legislative committee and haven’t been voted down or tabled make the list, though analysts exclude some bills awaiting appropriations committee review after passing an initial floor vote.

That means last week’s list includes some of the big-ticket legislation working its way through the Legislature, such as GOP-supported tax rebates and the governor’s signature income tax cut. But it also means the initial list excludes at least one major spending measure in the mix: House Bill 226, which would put $300 million toward shoring up state pension plans (that bill passed a House Appropriations Committee vote late last week, after the initial status sheet was published).

Additionally, there’s still time for lawmakers to add new spending measures to the mix. Budget bills can be introduced until March 28 and have until April 3 to clear their first chamber of the Legislature.

Read the full status sheet here.

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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.