HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock signed the Legislature’s main budget bill Friday – but not after first using his line-item veto authority to strike a small portion of the spending.
Bullock said in his line-item veto message that he needed to reduce spending. His office said the reductions cut about $30 million, roughly 0.4 percent of the two-year, $8 billion budget.
House Bill 2 cleared the Legislature with the backing of minority Democrats and some Republicans. But Bullock said lawmakers did not stick to his goals of a structurally balanced budget that left more money in the bank.
“I asked the Legislature to pass a budget that didn’t spend more than we take in and that left $300 million cash in the bank for a rainy day. Unfortunately, they didn’t,” Bullock said in a statement. “Therefore, I’ve had to veto and line-item veto more bills than I would have liked to, in order to keep the state’s financial position strong.”
The line-item veto in the main budget bill did not ax any particularly large programs. One move would strike the 6 percent pay raise that Republican lawmakers gave to game wardens who broke with other union workers and backed Bullock’s Republican opponent.
Total spending of state and federal money tops $10 billion when other budget bills are included. The two dozen other measures include pay raises for state employees, a revised school funding measure that increases K-12 spending, a fix for the beleaguered pension system, new college buildings and other spending.
More than half of the state budget comes from federal money, which makes up the bulk of programs like Medicaid or welfare and highway programs in the Department of Transportation.
Total spending in all budget bills of state tax revenue, known as general funds, will increase about 13 percent over the two-year budget period to $4.3 billion of the total, according to an analysis this week by legislative staffers.
Total spending, including federal money, also goes up about 13 percent to just over $10 billion.
The budget, as sent to the governor, left a projected rainy day fund of about $180 million.
Some Republican legislative leaders opposed the budget, arguing that spending increased too much with the budget.
“Democrats, with help from a handful of Republicans, passed a bloated budget at the conclusion of the legislative session, and I am happy that the governor found a way to reduce its size,” said Senate President Jeff Essmann.
Essmann said he hopes the governor will veto more spending bills, including the budget deal made on the last day with the governor’s office to give Bullock an extra $13.5 million in spending authority.
Others said it was the best deal that could be cut with Democrats, and pointed out that an influx of money was needed to fix lingering problems like the pension liability.
Other spending areas cut by Bullock with his line-item veto authority included $1.4 million to the Board of Oil and Gas for research and $200,000 for salary increases to that board’s employees. He also axed $250,000 extra for the agriculture experiment stations and $400,000 for Montana University System’s extension service to rural areas.
The governor argued current spending in those areas was sufficient.