Bullock Budget Pushes for Medicaid Expansion

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Gov. Steve Bullock released a two-year budget proposal Monday that pushes for Medicaid expansion and water, sewer and road projects as well as money for pre-kindergarten programs and increased funding for mental health services.

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Overall the proposal would increase state spending by 5.5 percent in fiscal year 2016 and 2.83 percent in 2017. Bullock said the increases are offset by expected revenue growth of 7 percent in 2016 and just over 6 percent in 2017.

He said his priorities encompass improving the state's economy, education and health care.

"I believe those values and priorities also reflect what Montana families hold dear," Bullock said.

Bullock's proposal again includes leaving $300 million in the bank for unforeseen expenditures during the two-year period. Incoming Senate President Debby Barrett of Dillon said Monday that while she hadn't yet seen Bullock's proposal, she supports the budget surplus idea.

"It just makes good sense," she said. "The Legislature and governor know that things can come up."

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Still, the proposal faces a tough road in the Legislature, where other majority Republicans said Bullock's ideas would lead to increased government. The proposal will go to them when they convene in January.

"The governor's budget is yet another example of Steve Bullock's penchant for reckless, liberal spending," Montana Republican Party spokesman Chris Shipp said. "While GOP legislators are focused on creating jobs and growing our economy, Governor Bullock wants to use taxpayer dollars to grow government."

Bullock said the Republican talking points don't resonate with him or with residents in fiscally prudent Montana.

The proposed budget includes $37 million for a preschool program called Early Edge. The proposal would make grants available to public schools to create or expand programs for 4-year-olds.

Another component would add $12 million for mental health services including crisis care. Other items in the budget include an apprenticeship tax credit for businesses that allow Montana residents to earn money while they get on-the-job training and a continued freeze on in-state tuition within the Montana University System.

Bullock's budget designates $300 million for water, sewer, road and expanded broadband Internet projects across the state through a mix of bonds and cash.

It also includes $45 million in grants for eastern Montana towns affected by the oil boom. Republicans have said they support investing in infrastructure, but they have disagreed with the governor on how to pay for it.

Barrett said budget ideas always have two versions, one from Republicans and one from the governor.

"It's his job to present this as a starting place and it's our process to work together on this," Barrett said. "I don't think we want to give him a blank check on his priorities, but we'll work with him."