Montana Representative Wendy McKamey

The legislature’s only constitutionally mandated task is to produce a structurally balanced state budget. The requirement for structural balance means we cannot rely on debt spending to fill holes in revenue. With that in mind, let me spend a little time discussing where we are in the budget process.

Budget discussions are initially handled by six committees that are jointly comprised of members from both the House and the Senate. These Joint Appropriations Subcommittees cover: general government, health and human services, natural resources, judiciary, education, and long range planning. These committees have already produced preliminary budgets that will now be reviewed by the full House Appropriations Committee.

The Governor’s budget, first presented at the end of last year, had increased spending that was balanced on the back of $100 million in tax increases. As Republicans we have rejected each and every one of his new tax proposals.

From liquor to tobacco and lodging to rental cars - Bullock sought to collect more revenue to support a budget bloated by a 7% spending increase over last biennium. We have not accepted these increases and, instead, have prepared a balanced budget using existing revenues. A budget, mind you, that still has room for a reasonable infrastructure package.

While we are on the subject of taxation, we all know that the property tax burden continues to grow unabated. Property taxes fund city and county government and they fund public education. The legislature, as befits a system of local control,  has very little input into the property tax system. In fact, all the legislature really contributes is the determination of the effective tax rate for the various classes of property.

We must begin to have a real discussion on what must happen to freeze or reduce property taxes. City and county services, like road maintenance, fire protection, police protection, water, and sewer are not going to magically be less expensive to provide. Nor is the need for these services going to be reduced. What is the answer? I don’t know but we need to have the discussion soon if we want it at all.

There are only about two weeks left before we hit our first transmittal deadline. At that point, any general bill that had not been passed out of its original chamber will be effectively stymied. While there are ways to revive a bill that failed to make its transmittal deadline, all of the methods require a supermajority vote.

Thank you, for the opportunity to be your Representative in HD19. I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to serve!