Appropriation subcommittees pass budgeting method
On the 5th day of the legislature, joint appropriations subcommittees gathered today to put forward a motion that would change the approach lawmakers take in deciding this year's state budget.
On Thursday, Republican leaders announced a proposal for baseline budgeting. This morning, appropriations subcommittees passed the motion, officially putting baseline budgeting into effect. Under this system, lawmakers will determine this session's budget on last year's numbers. The previous system has been used for years, and is based on projected estimates, from state agencies. While Republicans are in favor of method, Democrats are struggling to understand why the change was made.
With baseline budgeting now in effect, Republican lawmakers say it's a positive change that will benefit Montana tax payers. Republican Representative Steve Gibson says the new system doesn't call for an exact reduction in spending.
Gibson says, "What this does, and again there is not a set number to cut the budget, but I don't think people realize, in the current present law these costs are over $300,000,000 and I think we work for the people, and we have a commitment to look at all of those."
Democratic Representative Galen Hollenbaugh disagrees, saying baseline budgeting is a setback that will cut millions of dollars from the budget.
Hollenbaugh says, "I am very much opposed to this arbitrary roll back to just striking $60,000,000 of the budget with no apparent reason other than we want to show people that we are attempting to review every single penny that goes into the budget. That is what House Bill 2 or the budget process is all about. That's what we have been sent here to do."
Gibson says he doesn't see the new system as a cut, but instead a chance for lawmakers to review every penny that's allocated.
Gibson says, "I mean there might be additions to the programs that work. There might be transfers and as I said earlier, such things as fixed lost, inflation, deflation will come back in. We just have to wait for the process."
But Gibson recognizes the Democrats aren't happy.
Gibson says, "I believe as we go through this process people will become more comfortable with it. There is a lot of apprehension right now and there might even be some dis-trust. And I understand that, but that's not the intent."
And even though Hollenbaugh is frustrated with the recent change, this doesn't mean he's given up on the budgeting process.
Hollenbaugh says, "We will be working hard to make sure that we reach across the isle, understand each others issues, understand why people are asking for the funding for certain programs."
Only time will tell if lawmakers are able to find a compromise, but one thing is certain, the budget, as always, will be one of the most highly disputed issues this session. During today's committee meetings, various state agencies explained their work, and why they deserve funding. Throughout the rest of the session, lawmakers will debate how much each agency should receive.
Story by Jill Jagelski, Beartooth NBC.
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