As both chambers wrap up their work this week ahead of today's transmittal deadline, it is worth taking a moment to highlight where things stand on bills the Montana Budget and Policy Center is tracking this session.
Governor Bullock's Healthy Montana Plan, House Bill 249, will receive a hearing next Friday, March 6, in the House Human Services Committee. The bill, sponsored by Representative Pat Noonan, will expand Medicaid to cover an additional 70,000 Montanans currently without access to affordable healthcare coverage, inject over $1.6 billion in federal taxpayer dollars into the state economy, and save the state of Montana over $78 million in lower health care costs over the next four years.
HB 455, sponsored by Representative Nancy Ballance, had a hearing last week. The bill would provide Medicaid services to only one-sixth of those Montanans eligible for expansion and actually cost Montana taxpayers more money, falling far short of the governor's proposal. It has since passed out of committee, approved by a 10-7 vote.
Fiscally Irresponsible Tax Cuts
Despite the fact that the legislature has yet to agree upon a final estimate of the revenue coming into the state, lawmakers continue to support an aggressive program of tax cuts. As mentioned previously on the blog, one estimate puts the total cost of the tax cuts at $300 million. Montana is one of only four states in the nation that does not have a designated ‘rainy day fund’, placing an even greater importance on ensuring we have a robust ending fund balance.
One proposal, HB 166, sponsored by Representative Keith Regier, passed both chambers and will be headed to the governor’s desk soon. The bill would cost the state more than $160 million in lost revenue, disproportionately benefiting the state’s top 1% of earners. These tax cut proposals are fiscally irresponsible by putting pressure on cutting critical investments in our communities and could prevent the legislature from producing a healthy ending fund balance in the final state budget.
A proposal to bolster support for non-native students attending tribal colleges in the state received strong support in the House and has been transmitted to the Senate for consideration. HB 196, sponsored by Representative Susan Webber, would increase the maximum per-student funding for nonbeneficiary students enrolled at tribal colleges to $3,480 per year, roughly an 8% increase from the level previously set in 2008. While any increase is significant, per student funding for tribal colleges remains at half the level received by the state's community colleges. The bill passed 3rd reading by an 82-16 vote.
Unemployment Insurance for Victims of Domestic Violence
The legislature is working toward providing greater support for individuals who have lost their jobs as a result of being victimized by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. HB 306, sponsored by Representative Jenny Eck, would expand the availability of unemployment insurance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, who currently receive fewer weeks of unemployment insurance than other populations eligible for UI. The House passed the bill on Monday (though it was amended to reduce the number of weeks from 18 to 14 weeks), and it has now been transmitted to the Senate.
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.