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Update: HB 2, General Appropriations Act

Posted Date: 
March 15, 2013
Maureen Connor, Legislative & Policy Analyst, Montana Association of Counties

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House Bill 2 completed step two of its legislative journey and moves toward funding the basic operations of the state budget for the next two years. It was released from House Appropriations earlier this week on a party-line vote of 13-8. Step one of the HB 2’s journey was the subcommittee work, where hundreds of people file through the smaller committees and explain their agency programs or make local government requests for funding.

Long before this legislative session began, state agencies, legislative services, and the office of budget and program planning were busy crunching numbers and preparing what county commissioners and county financial officers would view as similar to a first draft of a preliminary budget, but with quite a few more zeros.

While complicated, it’s worth noting that the legislative branch started this session with the suggestion to use FY 2012 as the base, and most of the subcommittees adopted this as their starting point. They also got the fixed costs out of the way quickly, inflationary factors, and increases. In some cases this has been reported as big spending by the majority party but is reflective of where the appropriations budget began numerically.

Last week, the full House Appropriations Committee met and reviewed the subcommittee work. The full committee relied heavily on the work of their subcommittees and their chairs. This week, they met for two days of executive action and went quickly through over 100 amendments, most of which failed.

Various notable areas for counties in HB 2:

  1. One amendment in Section B that passed was funding for a grant program with the goal of preventing jail suicides in detention centers. The Committee added $250,000 in federal funds from the Children’s Health Insurance Program bonus payment that DPHHS receives.  The funding is one-time and restricted for a grant program for detention centers to prevent jail suicides.  The Department has statutory authority to administer the program and distribute the grants.  This is the same level of funding that was requested in HB 43, the jail suicide bill that did not pass. 
  2. Another amendment failed in Appropriations, which would have restored funding used by DPHHS to fund 25 locations around Montana for reproductive health—the Family Planning Program. Also in the DPHHS budget, there was increased funding for community crisis for mental health, something MACo has been supporting along with our Sheriffs and others.
  3. DEQ lost some funding to support the review of subdivision sanitation, which failed to make it through the committee. It’s difficult to say how this will impact the development community, but fee increases and possibly slower reviews may be in the future.
  4. The Department of Commerce Main Street program, not a big one for the counties, but important to some communities trying to revitalize their downtown areas did not get funding.
  5. Another area that is a little harder to figure out is the Secretary of State’s Office, which is an enterprise fund. As the counties know, elections cost more than they used to even with the support of federal and state funding. The Appropriations Committee moved this enterprise fund into House bill 2 and placed a spending restriction on the fund that $3 million must be used for MT Votes, the state-wide voter database.  While this is good news for counties, it is very bad news for the Secretary of State's office because those dollars would normally go to paying for the operations of the SOS office. This is a budget spot to keep an eye on as HB 2 continues its travels through the legislative process.

The next step is the floor of the House, and HB 2 will probably be up starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday March 19 and Wednesday March 20, which subject to change of course.

Maureen Connor | | 406-449-4360