Helena, MT, USA — Legislative analysts agreed today that more money is needed to fight fires in Montana. But they called the state’s current system for funding wildfire suppression “convoluted” and raised concerns about some of Governor Schweitzer’s special session requests.
The governor called a special session — scheduled to begin tomorrow — so lawmakers can allocate more money for wildfire costs.
Today, the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Claims committees held a joint hearing, in which they were presented an analysis on wildfire funding by the Legislative Fiscal Division.
The analysis said the average cost of fire season has risen to more than $19 million a year — too much to handle through the standard mechanism of supplemental transfers and general fund loans.
Schweitzer is requesting $55 million to pay for wildfires both this year and next. He also is asking lawmakers to increase his emergency account from $16 million to $25 million and allow him to call a single fire emergency that could last up to four months.
Legislative analysts say increasing the emergency fund is a “long-term decision,” and examining it in a time-limited session “may not be in the best interest of thestate.”