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Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday signed the state’s $12.6 billion biennial spending plan, fulfilling the Legislature’s sole constitutional authority and enshrining tax and spending cuts that he and allied lawmakers championed this session.
The budget comes in more than $100 million slimmer than the proposal that Gianforte brought to the Legislature at the beginning of the session, reflecting spending cuts and policy changes like an end to Medicaid year-round continuous eligibility, which the state did away with through language in the budget. The included tax cuts, which also reflect a significant simplification of Montana’s tax brackets, total more than $60 million a year.
Gianforte in a statement said the budget was bringing “much-needed fiscal restraint” to government in Helena.
The state has a $350 million ending general fund balance.
The budget was a vehicle for several controversial policy decisions this session, perhaps most prominently the end to continuous eligibility. Republicans in Montana, previously one of only two states who participated in continuous eligibility, argued that tightening requirements for public benefits was important to combat fraud. But Democrats and other critics of the change said that ending continuous eligibility would result in qualified Montanans losing their health coverage through bureaucratic churn.
The budget also contains a $100,000 appropriation to the Montana Secretary of State to fight court challenges to new election laws passed this year and $285,000 to fund a legislative probe into perceived judicial misconduct and bias, part of a broader standoff between the Legislature and the courts stemming from a bill signed this session to overhaul judicial nominations and give more power to the governor.
Lawmakers did make some investments that weren’t subject to the same scrutiny, including a $1 million annual boost in trades education and a $2.5 million-a-year program to incentivize teacher pay increases.
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