The Montana Legislature is responsible for accomplishing a great deal during the 90 days it meets every two years.
But lawmakers are actually only constitutionally required to do one thing — create and pass a state budget.
Last week, the House of Representatives got one step closer to that goal. Fifty-six days into the session, legislators passed House Bill 2, the bill that lays out funding for every major state agency. Lawmakers allocated $10 billion in general fund money to be spent over two years. HB 2 will now move onto the Senate, which will make further amendments to the bill.
It sounds simple enough. But the budget has been one of the most contentious topics of the entire session, with legislators debating every nook and cranny in an effort to have their values represented.
The budget can also be difficult to understand. Even legislators have disagreements about what certain numbers or allocations mean. But, it also affects each and every Montanan. How the final budget shapes up will touch just about every aspect of life in Montana for the next two years.
In order to understand why the budget is so important, it’s necessary to first understand where all that money goes.
“House Bill 2 quite simply is the money for the operation of state government,” said Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton.
Ballance is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, or the group of representatives who put together the budget before it is sent to the rest of the House. They are also sent bills to determine whether or not they are financially feasible given the budgetary constraints of the year. The Appropriations Committee takes into account everything from the amount each state agency spends to the state’s projected revenue.
Because HB 2 covers so much territory, the greater appropriations committee also splits into…