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Gov. Steve Bullock announced Monday that Montana’s fire suppression account is now the largest it has ever been and that the state has adequate reserves to weather the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor transferred $46.7 million to the fire suppression account over the weekend, bringing it to $101.5 million, the maximum allowed by law.

“The fire fund filled to the brim is an important cushion to have during this time,” Bullock said in a press conference on Monday.

Montana has spent an average of $21.1 million annually on firefighting for the last decade, meaning the suppression account now has enough money to pay for five average fire seasons. In 2017, a record fire year, the state spent $65 million.

The money was transferred to the suppression account because state agencies spent less than what the Montana Legislature allocated to them and because the state’s share of Medicaid costs was lower than what it has been previously, Bullock said.

The remainder of the budget surplus totaled about $40 million and was sent to the state’s general fund, which now has more than $400 million.

The budget stabilization reserve — known as the rainy day fund — has also hit the maximum allowed by state law, $114.2 million.

Tax collections for the year were $21 million higher than state lawmakers projected during last year’s legislative session.

“While none of us could have anticipated a global pandemic as we wrapped up the 2019 legislative session, we did anticipate the unexpected could come our way,” Bullock said. “We took the right steps to make sure our budget is in good shape and left money in the bank for unforeseen circumstances.”

Montana’s reserves will help the state continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and means the state won't have to cut back on government services, Bullock said.

Republican legislative leaders have asked Bullock to make cuts to the state budget because they anticipate a loss in revenue due to the economic downturn.

Congress is still debating the next round of coronavirus relief funding, which could include money for state and local governments. Bullock said Montana doesn’t need federal assistance but the money would “go a long way toward normalizing the state revenue picture in the next couple years.”

Last week, the Legislative Finance Committee received a staff report that said the state budget will be stable over the next two years but there could be financial challenges beginning in 2023.

Bullock, who will leave office in January, said he anticipates the state’s finances will be in a better condition when he steps down than they were when he took office.

“This isn’t the time to relax any kind of fiscal discipline,” said Tom Livers, the governor’s budget director.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.

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