Going into Montana’s 2021 legislative session, there is a lot of attention on the growth in Montana’s state budget over the past decade. The Montana budget represents the collective investments we make to educate our children, maintain a healthy and trained workforce, care for the elderly, and much, much more. Investing in Montanans through our state budget allows us to keep a healthy, running economy.
Overall, Montana’s economy has been doing pretty well the last 10 years. State gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by 47 percent from 2009 to 2019 (not adjusted for inflation), while per capita personal income in the state has increased by 45 percent over the same period.
Montana’s state budget has grown roughly at the same rate, and much of that growth has been in federal funding, not state funding. State level expenditures increased by 54 percent from the 2009 to 2019 biennium, not too different from the 47 percent increase in state GDP and 45 percent increase in personal income. A big portion of this growth comes from Montana expanding Medicaid and providing affordable health insurance to 80,000 Montanans paid at low wages. Medicaid expansion was estimated to have created 5,000 jobs and $270 million in personal income annually in Montana. Medicaid expansion is covered almost entirely through federal funds, and as a result, expenditures from federal funds increased by 66 percent from the 2009 to the 2019 biennium.
While attention may be on budget growth over the decade, we must also remember the level of cuts that took place in 2017 that devastated services for many communities. Following the 2017 budget cuts, many Montanans, especially those living in rural communities, experienced severe shortages of services, such as behavior health services, public assistance support, and home and community-based services that their families and communities rely on. While some of these cuts were restored in 2018, many communities continue to struggle to access adequate services.
The 2021 legislative session comes at an important time. Montanans have been through a lot in the last year and are beginning to see a hopeful recovery from this unprecedented pandemic. The legislature will decide whether to continue following the path of economic growth and community health that we’ve seen over the past decade, or to cut the services that our families need. Let’s continue to allow our budget to keep pace with economic growth and fund education, public health, and support the elderly with a level of dignity that Montanans deserve.
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.