Budget deal, special session in sight

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A deal to fix the state’s budget problems could materialize in the coming days, and a special legislative session could follow soon after, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget director said on Wednesday.

The governor’s office has been working with legislative leaders to come up with the framework of a deal that would plug the state’s $227 million fiscal hole.

The deal entails a combination of budget cuts, moving funds around and temporary tax increases.

The governor would make cuts to state agencies under a law that allows his office to reduce agency spending by up to 10 percent, budget director Dan Villa said. Adjustments such as fund transfers and cuts would also come to some agency budgets that the governor can’t reduce unilaterally.

The last part of the deal, Villa said, aims to pay firefighting costs incurred by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation this past summer, through about $75 million in temporary tax increases and revenue enhancements.

These are the only type of revenue increases that Sen. Llew Jones, R–Conrad, deems acceptable.

“I’m not open to finding new revenue sources that are in any way permanent,” he told the Daily Inter Lake Wednesday.

The taxes he would be willing to raise include those on lodging and rental cars, “just [in] those areas that can be turned up slightly, then turned down” in a few years. He and Sen. Chas Vincent, R–Libby, also discussed implementing fire assessment fees in Montana’s east, where they aren’t currently collected.

He added that negotiations on this topic “must begin with the governor laying the cards on the table, What cuts is he willing to make?”

The agency cuts proposed by the governor have many Montanans worried that a wide range of vital health-care, educational and environmental programs could be curbed.

But Jones, who chairs the Montana Legislative Finance Committee, said that in his view “there’s no clear definition of what the starting cuts are...I would suggest the cut list is unduly targeted outside of Helena, unduly targeted at the state’s most vulnerable and needs to be rethought.”

Villa said the governor’s office would not produce a final cut list until a deal on tax increases and other budget adjustments is reached.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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