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Bullock: State budget was in good shaping heading into pandemic

 


Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press conference Wednesday that Montana was in a good position, budget-wise, heading into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Leaving the money in the bank is allowing us the time to gauge and understand the economic impacts of COVID-19 that are occurring in every corner of our nation,” he said. “It’s allowing us to preserve and maintain key essential services in the short-and the mid-term. Our general fund cash flow is manageable, while I recognize projections are just bad, and we will know more after income tax collections at the end of next month.”

He said, right now, his budget office is projecting that the state will have $113 million in general fund reserves June 30 of next year, adding that that money would be available without tapping into the $92 million that would be available from the budget stabilization reserve.

He said he recognizes a lot can change in the month ahead. Unemployment insurance claims are down 20,000 per week from its highest point, which was a month ago.

“I’m optimistic that we are responsibly opening up our economy at a rate much faster than most states while still being protective of public health,” Bullock said. “I think there still is a lot of unknown, including that the president and the vice president have both said to the nation’s governors that they recognize that you can’t have a rebounding economy if you are gutting essential state and local government services, so Congress may well step in the months ahead and there are Democratic, Republican bipartisan proposals even right now to do just that.”

He said he’ll handle the budget just like the response of COVID-19 was handled — based on science, data and by responsibility handling the day-to-day changes not on politics.

The state is not in a position to make unnecessary cuts across-the-board to essential services, he added.

Steps were taken at the state level to save on expenditures, he said, offset revenue reductions and avoid a future that would lead to drastic cuts.

“We certainly have reason to be optimistic about the shape of our state budget amid a global pandemic,” Bullock said. “At the next point, we’ll see more information to help us further analyze the budget picture will be when income tax revenues are received in July. We’ll continue to demonstrate conservative fiscal management throughout this pandemic and until my last day serving as governor.”

He said at the same time the state will continue to work every day to see if Montana’s economy is able to rebound quickly and effectively, adding that it will continue to revive financial support where it’s needed most now, including with the emergency grants for Montana small business owners and others individuals impacted by this crisis.

He said the state will continue to pursue every avenue available toward a short- and long-term economic recovery.

In other news, he said, parts of Yellowstone National Park will open on the Wyoming side next Monday and as for the Montana side won’t open till June 1 at the earliest.

The June opening date, he said, is dependent on the monitoring of new cases in Montana in line with an increase in testing in the state.

“I, like every Montanan and every Montana family that relies on visitors for their economic livelihoods, want to see the park re-open,” he said. “I also know Montans have done this right because we took aggressive measures, and because Montana took seriously those measures, we have the lowest hospitalizations and cases per population in the nation. We want to keep it that way.”

Bullock said as much as the state’s economy relies upon visitors, he wants to ensure those visitors don’t bring problems and infections from their home state.

And if they do, he said, he wants to make sure Montana is prepared.

“We aren’t even in two weeks of our restaurants, bars and breweries re-opening and we want to make sure all these re-openings to date won’t significantly set us back,” he added. “We also want to make sure that enhanced mitigation measures the park is committed to are put into place, including health screening protocols, surveillance testing plan, the limiting of large gatherings, and frequent cleaning and sanitation requirements.”

He said the state received 19, 500 swabs, 9,000 viral transport medium from the federal government this week to continue to test symptomatic Montanans, ramp up testing vulnerable Montanans, nursing homes, assisted livings and tribal communities.

He said the state has a commitment from the federal government to continue to receive a continuous supply chain.

“We’ve also just about got in place a contract with a reference laboratory that could also take up to 1,500 tests a day from Montana and process them within a two-day period,” Bullock said. “A nursing home was tested on a trial-run last week. This week, testing supplies are being distributed to 22 nursing home facilities across our state to perform the testing.”

He said the state has been working with the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and that this Friday and Saturday Fort Belknap will enhance surveillance testing and drive-through testing. 

 

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