Budget cuts without cause
Jan. 5, 2011
Read below . . . and know that the Republican majority seems poised to cut the governor’s proposed budget by maybe as much as $500 million! $78 million in elementary and secondary education! $38 million in higher education!
As for the state employee pay plan . . . ?
Folks, there is plenty to worry about here . . . and to compel action.
Did we elect a Republican majority to cut the hell of state government and public schools when there is no reason to do so? Except of course they can . . . and will . . . if Montanans don’t step up to defend the programs, services, education, and jobs government and schools provide.
Contact your legislator. Today, and every day hereafter. Recruit a bunch of friends and neighbors to do the same.
Please believe, your legislator is hearing plenty from folks who are more than pleased to gut shoot government.
GOP leadership will set budget-cutting targets next week
By MIKE DENNISON - Gazette State Bureau - Wednesday, January 5, 2011
HELENA — Republican leaders at the Montana Legislature say by early next week they'll be setting targets for scaling back the state's next budget, cutting proposed spending anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent.
“There will be targets for each of those (budget panels) to work toward,” Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said Wednesday.
Peterson and other key Republican lawmakers said they'll be discussing the target levels this week and hope to have them ironed out by Monday, when a half-dozen legislative budget panels begin their work on a first draft of a state spending plan for the next two years.
Rep. Walter McNutt, R-Sidney, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, predicted there will be “a big hue and cry next week when this happens,” but that majority Republicans believe they need a goal to cut spending to match up with expected revenue.
Peterson said Republicans think they'll have to cut as much as $360 million in general fund spending, or nearly 10 percent of Gov. Brian Schweitzer's proposed $3.76 billion proposed budget.
However, they also emphasized that the target is not an across-the-board cut, but rather an overall goal. Cuts for specific agencies or programs, from corrections to schools to human services, may be higher or lower than the target percentage, they said.
“Our charge this time is to go through and look at things based on merit,” McNutt said. “Are there things we could live without?”
Peterson said Republicans also may set spending targets for specific, key areas within the state budget, such as fixing the state employee pensions, new tax credits, or earmarked revenues and the programs they pay for.
Republicans control majorities in the House and Senate, giving them the votes to set a road map for devising a state budget.
A leading Democrat said Wednesday that she thinks setting targets this early in the Legislature is a mistake, because it's not clear how much tax revenue will be available.
Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, also said economic indicators are pointing to a recovery, which means big budget cuts won't be needed.
“It troubles me a little bit that they're being so fast in making this judgment,” she said. “I think their projections are way high, in terms of what they have to cut. The $360 million that they're talking about is quite extreme.”
Williams said Republican rhetoric seems more like a “fear tactic” to force unnecessary cuts, just for the ideological sake of cutting government.
“It's too bad they have to scare people into doing it instead of being honest on where we are,” she said. “The sky isn't falling. The economic forecast is getting better every day.”
Republicans don't see it that way, however.
Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena and chairman of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, said Democrats, including Gov. Schweitzer, are being too optimistic. He said most Republicans believe the economy isn't ready to take off, and that state spending must be reduced to match what they believe may be depressed tax revenue for some time.
“I could be a little less hard on that issue if I thought the economy was improving, but I just don't see it,” Lewis said. “I think that's the big policy debate of the session.”
Schweitzer has said repeatedly that the money exists to fund his budget, without making deep cuts in programs and still increasing state spending for the university system, public schools and human services.
Peterson said Republicans won't ignore changes in the revenue estimates, and will adjust their plans accordingly. However, he also said his party believes that revenue used to fund the state budget must be ongoing revenue, and shouldn't include the one-time transfers that the governor uses to balance his proposed budget.
Follow legislative action throughout the 2011 Montana Legislature.