Joint House/Senate committee considers revenue estimate

Sen. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula), left, and Sen. Fred Thomas hear testimony on the state revenue estimate Thursday

Sen. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula), left, and Sen. Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville) hear testimony on the state revenue estimate Thursday

Montana lawmakers are making their way through the process of passing a revenue estimate for the next two-year budget cycle. The revenue estimate is used as a basis for state spending.

Thursday, a joint committee of House and Senate members heard explanations of the estimate from the agency in charge of preparing it, the Legislative Fiscal Division (LFD).  The Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning (OBPP) also presented it’s revenue estimate figures to the committee.

The LFD and OBPP use different methods for calculating their revenue estimates, and have come to very different figures in years past, which has led to conflict over which revenue figures to use as a base for the budget. State Politics Reporter for Montana’s News Station Marnee Banks writes the revenue estimate, with its uncertainty has “historically been a political football with each party using it to its advantage.”

This year, however, the two estimates provided by the LFD and OBPP differ by only about one percent. That equals to about $62 million dollars out of about a $4 Billion dollar General fund budget over the next two years.

Senate Taxation Committee Vice-Chair Senator Fred Thomas (R-Stevensville) said he is optimistic the bill will move out of his committee in a timely fashion, either Friday of Monday. He says the process has been very thorough.

“We’ve reviewed how they’ve done the estimate, what the estimate is to this point in time…the process has been very uncontentious this time,” Thomas said. He expects the bill will pass the Senate next week and move to the House.

The revenue estimate never had a vote on the House floor during the 2011 Legislature, as House Speaker Mike Milburn kept it bottled up in the House Taxation Committee, looking to change the estimate. The same thing happened the two sessions before that.

House Taxation Committee Chair Mike Miller (R-Helmville) said new rules passed this year mean the revenue estimate must make it to the House floor for a vote.

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