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Bullock takes step to avoid another $23M in budget cuts

Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-28 19:53:40-04

The Bullock administration is taking steps to avoid as much as another $23 million in budget cuts, mostly in human services, such as child-abuse investigation and the state mental hospital.

Earlier this month, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget office formally submitted a request for “supplemental funding” in that amount, to allow year-to-year transfers to avoid the cuts in 2018.

Dan Villa, the governor’s budget director, told MTN News Wednesday that the transfers mean the administration could be asking the 2019 Legislature to approve as much as $30 million in retroactive spending authority.

“The governor has no appetite for additional cuts at the Department of Public Health and Human Services,” he said. “We just can’t afford it, nor can Montanans.”

The Legislature has until June to comment on the request. No comment amounts to “tacit approval” and the administration then can transfer funds from fiscal 2019 to cover costs this year, Villa said.

The 2019 Legislature then would be asked to approve additional spending to cover the shortfalls in the 2019 budget year.

Villa said he’s told leading lawmakers about the request, which was submitted March 8, and that they’ve scheduled a conference call in May to discuss it.

The transfer would not cover any budget cuts already made this year and last summer, in response to severe tax-revenue shortfalls, he said.

The request by the governor would cover further shortfalls this year in several areas:

  • About $9 million to hire people to work in child-protective services, which investigates child abuse and neglect and has worker caseloads far above an acceptable level, Villa said.
  • About $6 million to cover shortfalls in Medicaid, the program that covers medical bills for the poor.
  • Almost $2 million for nurses and psychiatrists to fill in at the Montana State Hospital.
  • $3 million for the Office of Public Defender, to handle its caseload of indigent clients needing legal defense in criminal cases.

“We’re not asking for program expansion, we’re not asking for service expansion,” Villa said. “We’re just asking (to) fund programs that exist now.”