This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.
The state budget bill that passed the House last week — all $14,318,925,185 of it — involves an often-baffling array of numbers. As I work to wrap my head around its significant figures, one approach I often find helpful is to translate the millions and billions of government finance into more personalized statistics.
Here’s that math: Just about 1.1 million people live in Montana. Dividing that $14.3 billion evenly among us produces a per capita figure of roughly $13,000 — the amount of spending the current draft of the state budget bill authorizes on behalf of each and every Montana resident for the coming two-year budget cycle.
Note that figure includes both state revenues and federal spending (the latter of which accounts for half the state budget bill — about $6,500 per capita). However, it excludes some of the biggest-ticket spending likely to be authorized by the Legislature this year, such as infrastructure programs and tax rebates.
The state’s single biggest spending category by far is health and social service programs administered through the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Those programs, many of which are heavily subsidized by the federal government, provide hundreds of thousands of primarily lower-income Montanans with access to, for example, Medicaid health care coverage and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Other major spending centers include the Department of Transportation, which builds and maintains highways; education agencies; and the Department of Corrections, which is responsible for the state prison system.
Some highly visible parts of state government, in contrast, represent much smaller slices of the spending pie. The state court system, for example, is budgeted for about $110 per resident over the next two years.
This year’s budget bill will likely be amended in the Montana Senate in the coming weeks, but amendments are unlikely to dramatically change this picture before the bill heads to Gov. Greg Gianforte for his signature.
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