The beginning of the legislative session seems far away, but it is only 20 wonky words! (If I take off Christmas and New Years). I think there are easily 20 wonky budget words to explain between now and then. So lets get back to it – House Bill 2 (HB2) is next on our list.
Last week, we went over appropriation and started to talk about in the main spending bill called the “General Appropriations Act” which is known as HB2. Today, we dig deeper.
What is in HB2?
HB2 contains the bulk of appropriations to support the ongoing functions of state government. As you can see from the chart in Fiscal Year 2013, 87.6% was spent on Education (such as K-12 and the University System), Health and Human Services (including Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program), and Corrections. The “other” category includes funding under the Departments of Revenue, Administration, Commerce, Labor and Industry, Justice and others.
What is the process of passing HB2?
The Legislative Fiscal Division (LFD) designed a great flow chart (page 43) that I’m going to summarize. The language of HB2 starts with the governor’s budget, which is released before the Legislative session. After a bit of analysis and formatting by LFD, it formally becomes HB2. Last week, I mentioned that appropriations bills are assigned to the House Appropriations committee - this is still true. However, because of the size and complexity this particular bill, sections of the bill are assigned to joint subcommittees to make recommendations to the full House Appropriations committee.
There are 6 of these subcommittees and are referred to by its section letter A-F. They are listed below. I also included the more specific areas of the budget each covers.
A) General Government (Legislative Branch, Consumer Counsel, Governor’s Office Commissioner of Political Practices, Commissioner of Insurance and Securities, Secretary of State, Revenue, Administration, Labor and Industry, Military Affairs, and Commerce.
B) Health and Human Services (Public Health and Human Services)
C) Natural Resources and Transportation (Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Environmental Quality, Livestock, Natural Resources and Conservation, Agriculture, and Transportation)
D) Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement, and Justice (Board of Crime Control, Justice, Public Service Regulation, Corrections, Judiciary, Public Defender)
E) Education (Office of Public Instruction, Board of Public Education, School for the Deaf and Blind, Montana Arts Council, State Library Commission, Montana Historical Society, Montana University System)
F) Long-Range Planning (Long-Range Building Program, Treasure State Endowment Program, State Building Energy Conservation, Renewable Resource Grant and Loan Program, Reclamation and Development Grant Program, cultural and Aesthetic Grant Program, Quality Schools Facilities Program, Long-Range Information Technology Program)
Each subcommittee is made up of members of the House Appropriations committee and the Senate Finance and Claims committee. The Chair of each subcommittee is a House member and the Vice-Chair is a member of the Senate.
Each subcommittee holds hearings to listen to agencies explain ongoing funding and new requests. After these hearings, the subcommittees send funding recommendations back to the full appropriations committee. From there, it follows the same process as any other appropriations bill - just like School House Rock.
House Bill 2 is mostly numbers. If any of the funding requires changes or addition to the wording of the law – AKA statutory changes – then there must be a separate bill detailing those required changes to Montana law.
Wow, that was a long one. There is probably more I could say, but I will stop there for this week. What you should remember is that House Bill 2 is the most debated, most important bill of the Legislative Session, and generally the last bill to pass before they close the session. However, there are exceptions. In 2007, for the first time in 30 years, House Bill 2 wasn't the budget, and it was not the last bill passed before adjournment.
Regardless of that unique session, we depend on House Bill 2 to fund the functions of state government that we all depend on.
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