By Associated Press - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The governor’s budget director is recommending Montana agencies cut $229 million in general fund spending over the next two years to balance the state’s budget due to lower revenues than expected and this summer’s higher firefighting costs this summer.

Most of the cuts recommended by Budget Director Dan Villa on Tuesday were proposed by state agencies when they were asked to list how they’d cut 10 percent of their budget. However, Villa is recommending against some cuts proposed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Disaster and Emergency Services because it would impact Montana’s ability to fight fires.

He also recommended against 50 jobs cuts in the Department of Revenue because they would hurt the state’s ability to collect business income taxes. However, the proposal still calls for cutting 80 jobs in property assessment for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends next June, and leaving 52 of those jobs open in Fiscal Year 2019.

The recommendations include holding vacant jobs open, mandatory furloughs, eliminating some jobs, shifting some costs away from the general fund, reducing payments on outside contracts, cutting travel and training, reducing grants and some scholarships, closing some small satellite offices, delaying computer replacements and reducing services for vulnerable or disabled residents. Cuts in the Department of Justice and the Office of Public Instruction will be decided by the elected agency heads while cuts to the Commissioner of Higher Education’s budget will be decided by the commissioner and the state Board of Regents.

“I have deep concerns about cuts that will ultimately increase the cost of education and reduce services Montanans depend on like health care, child protection services and public safety,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. “I will be reviewing these recommendations in the next days and weeks, but it remains my hope that both Democrats and Republicans will continue to work with me to find more responsible solutions.”

Republicans on the Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee last week rejected any suggestions of calling a special session to raise taxes to make up for the budget shortfall.

On Tuesday, Bullock discussed the possibility of calling lawmakers back to Helena for a special session to address how to pay for fire costs, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.

The Legislative Finance Committee will consider the proposed cuts next month before Bullock makes his final recommendations.

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