While cautioning that other items not yet finished could move the change up or down, a local lawmaker said from Helena during a video conference in Havre Tuesday that, as of that moment, the proposed state budget would be about a 1.4 percent increase from the last biennium.
“That’s not even quite inflation, so we’re not considering that terrible,” Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said during the video conference in Robins School Administration Building. The weekly video conferences are sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Havre Public Schools.
Hansen said that House Bill 2, the general appropriations bill, is looking to be increased about 4 percent for the coming biennium over what it was last biennium. Part of that is due to money being shifted from other accounts to the general budget bill, she said — an example is the budget for the office of the Secretary of State, which is now included in HB 2.
That was done with several offices, departments and programs to increase their accountability to the Legislature, Hansen said.
When all sources of funding, including federal money and other sources not included in HB 2, are taken into account, the total spending increase is the 1.4 percent, she said.
Other bills still could impact that, Hansen added, including proposals for about $2 million in tax reductions, a state employee pay plan and proposals to reform the state pension system.
“All of those things have the ability to either move that up or down,” she said.
Havre businessman Brad Lotton asked if that included the state bonding bill, which proposes about $100 million in construction, and if all items including a new Montana Heritage Center in Helena still were still in the bill.
A new building to house Montana State University-Northern’s automotive and diesel technology programs is included in the bill.
Sen. Greg Jergeson said he understands that the bill is the same as when it came out of committee, with no new additions and nothing removed.
The bonding bill is never considered as part of the state budgetting bill, he added.
“It is a bonding bill,” Jergeson said. “It is the assumption of state indebtedness by a
two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature.”
Making the payments on the debt would become part of the budgetting process starting in the next biennium if the bill passes, he said.
Northern Chanceller Jim Limbaugh also thanked the lawmakers for their work supporting inclusion of $200,000 for the university’s Bio-Energy Center in HB 2.
That will allow the university to continue its work on alternative energy, keep its researchers employed and working and continue to access some $3 million in grants, he said.
Hansen said much of the credit for that money being included goes to Rep. Mike Lang, R-Malta. He took the first steps and tracked that funding to make sure it was included, she said.
“He is my new best friend,” Limbaugh said.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, also complimented Lang on his work this session.
Limbaugh said he also is pleased that the College Affordability Plan, which includes pay increases for university employees in conjunction with a tuition freeze for students, is moving forward.
“That’s very good news for all the employees of the university system,” he said. “Thank you for that.”
Hansen told Limbaugh that it appears an interim study may be requested on university funding sources, with issues such as tuition waivers coming up for discussion.
Other conversations have included shifting revenue from the state lottery program to education — Hansen said that at least three bills have been proposed on that, with one specifying using the money for grants and scholarships for the university system. The Legislature has spent quite a bit of time looking at the affordability of going to college and the student funding, she said.
“It’s been a hot topic this time,” Hansen said, “under the microscope a little bit.”