Montana lawmakers say they're feeling better about state budget - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Montana lawmakers say they're feeling better about state budget

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HELENA - State lawmakers said Monday they’re increasingly optimistic about the state’s budget picture as updated revenue numbers come in.

The Legislative Finance Committee got an update on state revenues during a Monday meeting. Analysts from the Legislative Fiscal Division said the state general fund has collected about $189 million more than it did by the same time in 2017, though that number includes $67 million in legislative transfers from other funds.

Individual income tax collections have increased by $72.3 million, or 8.4 percent, over the same period last year. However, that growth is still below the 13.1 percent increase predicted in a revenue estimate from the 2017 regular legislative session.

Property tax collections have increased 11 percent since last year, but analysts said they expect that number to end up much closer to the 6.5 percent growth in the revenue estimate. They told lawmakers some people may have paid their full property tax earlier to take advantage of federal tax deductions that were capped by the tax reform law Congress approved last year.

Committee chair Rep. Nancy Ballance, a Republican from Hamilton, said Monday’s report was just the latest in a series of reports showing an improved financial outlook.

“We’re feeling a lot better as each month goes by that we’re going to be much, much closer to the revenue estimate that we left town with in May of 2017 versus what was used for the special session call,” she said.

During last year’s regular and special legislative sessions, lawmakers approved millions of dollars in cuts to state agency budgets to address a projected $227 million shortfall. One of the laws they passed includes a trigger system that will restore some of the funding if state revenue comes in at least $20 million higher than expected by July.

“Some of those cuts that were made as part of the special session would then be unwound, and money would go back into those departments,” said Ballance.

Ballance said she’s confident that the state will reach that benchmark and be able to mitigate some of the effects of the cuts.

She emphasized that the Legislative Finance Committee is not able to take any direct action to address the cuts, and that any changes will have to be made by the full Legislature.

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