Roadmap to the Montana Comeback

HELENA - Governor Greg Gianforte spoke about the “Roadmap to the Montana Comeback” budget proposals Thursday, saying it includes incentives to raise new teacher pay and broad-based tax relief.

The budget provides about $50 million in what Gianforte said are “broad-based and targeted tax reductions.”

A part of those tax reductions includes the governor announcing the income tax rate will be cut to 6.75 percent.

“More than half of Montana taxpayers will see income tax cuts of almost $30 million a year,” Gianforte said. “This is just a first step… our goal is to continue reducing tax rates over time in incremental steps.”

“Small business owners tell me that navigating our business equipment tax compliance is a burdensome task,” Gianforte said.

The budget will exempt business equipment of up to $200,000 through the Business Investment Growths Jobs Act, or BIG Jobs Act.

Funding for programs providing property tax relief to low-income homeowners, including disabled veterans and seniors, will also be boosted by 25 percent by the budget.

Gianforte also announced the budget establishes incentives for businesses to come to Montana and bring high-paying jobs.

An additional $3 million a year will also go towards helping lower-income Montanans, who Gianforte says shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table, prescription drug costs or paying their property taxes.

The budget includes increasing starting teacher pay as well, which includes $2.5 million in incentives for local school boards to improve pay for starting teachers through the Tomorrow’s Educators Are Coming Home Act, or the TEACH Act. 

Teacher pay is set by local school boards, and proposed legislation would provide incentives to local school boards to raise starting teacher pay according to the governor. The state will provide some of the money, but school boards will also have to come up with the money for the increase in pay Gianforte said during a press conference. 

Trades education will also be boosted by the budget with $1 million a year being invested into trades education and training by providing businesses a credit for employee education and training.

An additional $23.5 million in state and federal dollars per year is being put into community substance prevention and treatment programs. 

Gianforte says they plan to recognize the implementation of I-190, the Montana Marijuana Legalization and Tax Initiative, however, he said he believes our constitution reserves appropriation of funds to the state legislature.

“What we are requesting in this budget is that revenues from the legalization of marijuana be prioritized for two things, one is addiction recovery and secondly, economic development,” Gianforte said.

Tax revenue from the sale of marijuana was initially to go towards Montana’s general fund, as well as to fund conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans’ services, health care costs, and localities where marijuana is sold.

Marijuana tax revenue and part of the tobacco tax settlement will go to the Healing and Ending Addiction Through Recovery and Treatment Fund, or HEART Fund with the new budget.

“The HEART Fund will help fill the gaps in our current system, and when leveraged with federal Medicaid funds, will fund a full continuum of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs in the communities across the state,” Gianforte said.

State funding provided by the budget will also continue funding for five drug courts.

Gianforte announced 14 new parole and probation officers will be added to communities to help provide more supervision and reentry services to reduce recidivism. More substance abuse and mental health treatment are also being provided in Montana’s corrections facilities.

A new district court judge will also be provided in Gallatin County and Flathead County by the budget. 

“After a decade of out of control spending increases, this budget brings fiscal responsibility to state government while providing essential services,” Gianforte said. “Even with statutorily required increase spending, and investments in combating the drug epidemic, increasing starting teacher pay, and expanding trades education, total general fund increases increase less than one percent per year.”

Budget Director Kurt Alme says the budget decreases general fund spending by $100 million over the biennium compared to the previous administration’s proposed budget of a few weeks ago.

Alme also said the budget doesn’t dip into the budget stabilization fund and leaves a strong ending budget balance $50 million greater than the previous administration’s budget. The ending fund balance and reserves will total more than $450 million.

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