Montana: governor shouldn’t be able to alter judiciary’s budget request to the legislature

A key protection for the independence of the judiciary developed over the last several decades has been the practice of direct submission of the judiciary’s budget request to the legislature or, failing that, submission to the governor with a proviso that the governor must pass the request along to the legislature unchanged. The judiciary is a branch and not an executive branch agency, the argument goes, and should have its request treated accordingly. Several states have the practice (see list here) and a new bill in Montana would put that state’s judiciary on like footing.

Existing law (MCA 17-7-122) already prohibits the governor from altering the legislature’s budget request. SB 235 would put the same language in place for the legislature to apply to the judiciary.

(2) Legislative branch budget proposals must be included in the budget submitted by the governor without changes.

(3) Judicial branch budget proposals must be included in the budget submitted by the governor, but expenditures above the current base budget need not be part of the balanced financial plan pursuant to 17-7-123 without changes.

SB 235 is pending before the Senate State Administration Committee.