The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

To the Constituents of SD17

 

March 13, 2019

Dear Editor,

While we cannot control the weather, it has been harsh here in Northeast Montana, you have selected me to be your Senator for SD 17. It is my responsibility as your Senator to help manage our State government with knowledge and respect with "Progress from Conservative Common Sense".

Your 66th Legislature is on transmittal break, the halfway point of a 90-day session. One part of the legislative process is to debate and revise present law while repealing laws or passing new legislation. The second obligation is to balance the budget for the next biennium (2020 to 2021).

There are two state budget estimates, one is from the Governor and one is from the legislature. By law, these two parties must come together to create structural balance to the estimate of revenues and expenditures. Currently, 2019 biennium, our revenues and estimates are on the track created by the decisions by the Governor and legislature in the 2017 special session.

The final 45 days of the 66th session will be focused on the Governor's request of $1.2 billion more for 2021 biennium. Revenue estimates for this increase will be hard to find. Forty-four percent of our revenues come from federal dollars, we send in $1 and we get $1.44 in return.

Overall the funds requested for 2021 by the Governor are a growth of eight percent. Our economy is only growing around three percent.

Much of this is driven by increases in the cost of Medicaid Expansion created in the HELP Act. This has grown from $914 million in the 2017 biennium to $1.5 billion for the estimated 2021 biennium, a 63 percent increase. Expenses for our Health and Human services are 43 percent of the overall budget.

Other budget items are, education 23 percent, transportation 14 percent and the last 20 percent is judiciary and thousands of other appropriation. In reality, 84 percent of our revenues are spent and allocated before the legislature develops structural balance to the budget, while trying to finance all other needs of the citizens.

The Montana state budget is complex: billions of dollars in spending that are spread across thousands of complex appropriations which are hard to see and evaluate. All legislative appropriation committees have made their recommendations which will be formulated into HB2. I am part of Section A, General government and we analyze Departments of Administration, Governor's Office, Labor and Industry, Military Affairs, Secretary of State, Legislative Branch, Commerce, Commissioner of Political Practices, Consumer Counsel, State Auditor's Office and Revenue.

We estimate for the 2021 biennium that revenue sources for our state will be taxes on: Income, $2.7 billion; Property, $574 million (M) Corporations, $315M; Vehicles, $225M; Oil and gas production, $125M; Insurance tax and licensing, $156M; Gaming machines, $120M.

Currently our ending fund balance is $242M. The Governor wants this at $300M plus proposing $164M increase in taxes. I see this as an unsurmountable objective.

We have already funded the K-12 education for $77M and public employees wage increase at 50 cents per hour for the biennium of 2021.

So, the final 45 days there will be a decision on the state financial budget estimate. We need now to balance the theory of Educate, Medicate and Incarcerate. Remember to move something within Montana government you need a vote of 26 Senators, 51 Representatives and one Governor. From a realistic viewpoint, there will be bartering. The Governor wants full Medicaid funding, a Pre-K school system, a $300M ending fund balance and new infrastructure dollars. I want all this too, but I must make decisions which protect our needs before I do the wants.

Please stay informed and review the facts. Visit the Montana website: leg.mt.gov/ Contact me at mike.lang@mtleg.gov

Gratefully,

Senator Mike Lang, SD-17

 

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