HELENA -- Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte unveiled a proposed two-year state budget on Jan. 7 that would cut taxes for individuals and businesses and cut $100 million in spending from his predecessor’s final budget proposal.
“After a decade of out of control spending increases, this budget brings fiscal responsibility back to state government, while providing essential services,” Gianforte said at a press conference at the Montana Capitol.
As the first Republican governor in Montana in 16 years, Gianforte’s budget focused on reducing spending and taxes, but added some new spending too, including $2.5 million to help local school boards increase starting teacher pay and a $1 million investment into trades education.
Gianforte said the $100 million in reduced spending over the next two years came from cutting back proposed spending increases from the outgoing Bullock administration’s final budget proposal released in November 2020.
“We’ve done exactly what we promised in the ‘Comeback Plan’—we held the line on new spending,” the governor said.
During a question-and-answer with the press, Gianforte said he’ll be proposing legislation to redirect funds from Montana’s recently passed initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, which included a 20% tax, into addiction recovery and economic development funds, a departure from the initiative’s original promise of revenue streams for “conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans’ services, healthcare costs, and localities where marijuana is sold.”
The governor’s Budget Director Kurt Alme joined Gianforte in presenting the budget, which, in its current form, does not include any state appropriations for COVID-19-related programs like vaccine distribution or financial aid to businesses. Alme said they’re still waiting on direction from the U.S. Capitol on how to spend recently passed federal aid.
“We hope there will be sufficient federal funding to meet our COVID-related needs,” Alme said.
At the start of the conference, Gianforte for a second time denounced the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. Mobs stormed inside the Capitol rotunda and the floors of both chambers of Congress as U.S. legislators were set to vote to certify Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.
“Yesterday was a sad, tragic day for America,” Gianforte said. “When I was inaugurated on Monday, I asked you to join me in praying for our state and our country. We need it now more than ever.”
(Austin Amestoy is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Newspaper Association, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.)