“Give the money back, fix what’s broken, save for a rainy day, and pay off the debt.”
These were the priorities laid out by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on Wednesday during a visit to Kalispell, as he addressed Flathead Valley stakeholders and outlined his proposed “Budget for Montana Families.” In a conversation with Kalispell Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Tagen Vine, Gianforte highlighted the state’s ballooning affordable housing crisis, childcare shortages, and drug and mental health concerns, as well as his administration’s efforts to pass budget and tax relief and streamline bureaucratic processes. The governor’s visit to Kalispell coincided with the beginning of Montana’s 68th Legislative Session, where Republicans possess a bicameral supermajority for the first time since 1972 and control the governor’s office, signaling a promising forecast for the Montana GOP’s budget and tax-related goals.
Gianforte on Nov. 10 unveiled his “Budget for Montana Families,” a spending plan that his office defined as “a historic pro-family, pro-jobs” proposal. Major provisions included $1 billion in income and property tax relief, adoption and child tax credits, and investments in the state’s behavioral health system, drug treatment resources and water and sewer infrastructure.
“Because we were fiscally responsible, we have a surplus,” the governor said during the visit, discussing the nearly $2 billion budget surplus state legislators will be able to work with this year.
Gianforte told attendees that his administration hopes to use the surplus to address four major policy goals: reducing tax rates and providing rebates, improving aging infrastructure, supplementing fire suppression and rainy day funds and paying off the state’s current general obligation debt.
The governor outlined plans for fixing the state prison in Deer Lodge, improving facilities at the Montana State Hospital mental health facility in Warm Springs and building new water and sewer systems. He also discussed efforts to eliminate red tape in Helena, combining and eliminating state boards and streamlining government processes.
“We have some things that have been broken in Montana for a long time,” Gianforte said.
Despite assurances by the governor that the tax plan will alleviate the economic burdens saddling working families, critics contend his proposed tax cuts will benefit the state’s wealthiest residents and hurt public resources.
The Montana Budget and Policy Center on Dec. 5 reported that Gianforte’s plan to cut the top income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9% will save the wealthiest 1% of Montanans $6,000 per year, while it will save Montanans making between $43,000 and $67,000 an average of $70.
In addition to discussions over the budget surplus and spending proposals, the governor addressed audience concerns over the state’s affordable housing crisis. Gianforte highlighted the work of the state’s Housing Task Force and addressed concerns regarding “Come Home Montana,” a promotional campaign launched by the governor in June of 2021 that was designed to bring young people back to the state, but faced mixed reviews after a housing rush left many locals unable to keep pace with a rising cost of living and untenable real estate market.
“Now that the show ‘Yellowstone’ has emerged, it’s not clear how much promotion we have to do,” the governor said. “People have discovered Montana.”
Gianforte emphasized his administration’s efforts to increase career technical education and apprenticeship opportunities in hopes of pushing Montana’s students towards careers in construction and alleviating labor shortages.
“If you want more houses you need more plumbers,” the governor said. “We need to do more in our junior highs and high schools to expose our young people to different trade educations.”
While discussing plans on the state level, the governor emphasized the value of local government, highlighting the work of city and county officials.
“I think the best government is local government,” Gianforte said. “I often say, county commissioners, they know where every pothole is in the community, they know where every stray dog is.”
Flathead County Commissioner Pam Holmquist, who was in attendance at the event, praised the “good rapport” that she and the other commissioners have with the governor and highlighted her own goals for the coming year, including the construction of a regional septage facility in Flathead County, increasing resources for the sheriff’s department and streamlining subdivision review.
The governor’s budget will go before the state Legislature this session. More information on the 68th Legislative Session can be found at leg.mt.gov.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.