HELENA — Gov.-elect Steve Bullock supports some key components of fellow Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s proposed budget, but hasn’t decided yet about expanding health coverage for 80,000 low-income Montanans, his spokesman said Thursday.
Kevin O’Brien, Bullock’s spokesman and campaign manager, said the Bullock transition team had budget talks with Schweitzer’s staff, but had only just received a copy of the Schweitzer budget.
Bullock will release his own budget recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 31.
Schweitzer proposed expanding Medicaid, the federal-state medical program that pays for health coverage for the poor.
“We’re paying way too much (on health care) and getting way too little,” O’Brien said. “As a candidate and through the transition, Steve is continuing to meet with folks from all across Montana in the medical community, finding ways to lower the cost for the delivery of health care, while still maintaining quality. What that means in the budget, time will tell in December, but what we have now is not working.
O’Brien called a budget a reflection of priorities.
“What Steve’s is going to be is one that creates jobs, helps small businesses, includes a $400 tax rebate for every homeowner in the state, eliminates the business equipment tax for 11,000 small businesses and also includes renewed commitment in economic development to help more companies locate here, help the companies that are already here grow,” he said.
In his campaign, Bullock had made these commitments, which are also part of Schweitzer’s budget, including:
--Support for Schweitzer’s proposal to freeze tuition for two years at state colleges and universities.
“I think Steve’s budget will show a tuition freeze because every time that tuition goes up at colleges and universities, it’s a tax hike on middle-class families,” O’Brien said.
Bullock also favors an as-yet unspecified financial commitment to K-12 schools, and preschools.
--Support for the plan negotiated by Schweitzer and public employee unions to raise base pay for state employees by 5 percent in each of the next two years.
“For five years, many state employees have had their base pay frozen at a time when everything else has gone up – milk, gasoline, everything has gone up,” O’Brien said. “State employees deserve a pay raise, and that’s something Steve will be considering.”
--Support for a plan to issue nearly $88 million of bonds to finance the construction and improvements of university system and a new Montana Historical Society building.
--Support for a large ending fund balance.
O’Brien said the eight budget surpluses Montana has experienced under Schweitzer “speak for themselves.” Montana was one of the few states whose budgets were in the black during the recession in 2008 and 2009, he said.
Bullock will be a fiscally responsible manager of the state’s resources, O’Brien said.