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Montana’s budget basics
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Montana’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2021 were $11.1 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2021 were $2.7 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $512.8 billion in California.
Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.
Per the US Census Bureau, Montana’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $9.8 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $9,120 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.
Montana’s largest spending areas per capita were public welfare ($2,152) and elementary and secondary education ($1,768). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.
Montana’s combined state and local general revenues were $10.2 billion in FY 2019, or $9,553 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. Montana does not levy a general sales tax. After federal transfers, Montana’s largest sources of per capita revenue were property taxes ($1,715) and individual income taxes ($1,320).
Governor Greg Gianforte, a Republican, was elected in 2020 with 54 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2024.
Republicans control both the House of Representatives (67 Republicans to 33 Democrats) and Senate (31 Republicans to 19 Democrats). Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Republicans a trifecta in Montana. All Montana House seats are on the ballot in 2022 because representatives serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms; roughly half the senatorial seats are on the ballot in 2022, and the other half will be up for election in 2024.
Montana’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints
Montana uses a biennial budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget and is prohibited from carrying a deficit over into the following year. The state has no further tax and expenditure limits, and there are no debt limits on either authorized debt or debt service incurred by the state.
(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)
Montana’s current budget
Governor Greg Gianforte has not released a FY 2023 supplemental budget proposal (the state uses a biennial budget) or given a state of the state address in 2022.
Montana enacted its FY 2022-2023 biennial budget in May 2021. The enacted budget included $2.6 billion in general fund spending for FY 2022 and $2.7 billion in general fund spending for FY 2023. According to the governor, Montana also passed multiple tax cuts in calendar year 2021, including reducing the state’s top individual income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6.75 percent.
Under the American Rescue Plan, Montana will receive $906 million in direct state fiscal aid and $257 million in local government aid from the federal government. As of January 2022, Montana had spent part of its ARP funds on capital construction, broadband expansion, economic development, and public health programs.
According to NASBO, Montana’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were:
FY 2021: $2.4 billion/$11.1 billion
FY 2020: $2.3 billion/$8.3 billion
FY 2019: $2.3 billion/$7.2 billion
For more on Montana’s budget, see
Montana’s economic trends
Montana’s per capita income (per the Bureau of Economic Analysis) was $56,672 in 2021, ranking 31st among the states. It was below both the national average of $63,444 and the Rocky Mountain regional average of $61,587. The state’s median household income (five-year estimate) was $56,539 in 2020, ranking 40th among the states and below the national average of $64,994. Montana’s poverty rate was 12.8 percent in 2020 (five-year estimate), equal to the national rate of 12.8 percent.
Although Montana’s averages tell a story about the entire state, Montana is composed of diverse localities. For example, the city of Kalispell’s median household income was $47,750, and its poverty rate was 14.3 percent; the city of Helena’s median household income was $60,074, and its poverty rate was 11.8 percent.
Montana’s unemployment rate has historically been below the national average, particularly following the Great Recession. (See how COVID-19 is affecting state employment and earnings data.)
Unemployment rates (like other economic indicators) often vary significantly by race and ethnicity. However, Montana does not currently have enough information available for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to break down its unemployment rate by race. (This is preliminary data. See the 2020 data for a more detailed breakdown of state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity.)