In lean financial times, families across Montana know that the responsible thing to do is to prioritize spending and, in some cases, cut back on the wants so that the needs of their families can be met. Understandably, Montanans want to see state government take the same actions - prioritize spending, cut back on non-essential government operations and make due with less taxpayer money – until revenues increase.
It is worth noting that in the reports of jobs that may be lost due to necessary spending reductions, out of 13,000 state employees none of the jobs cut were in the executive office. In fact, just days after revealing that 20 Montanans would lose their jobs, Governor Steve Bullock announced that he’s further expanding his government by creating the Office of Outdoor Recreation. That alone should infuriate every tax paying Montanan.
At the end of last summer, while Governor Bullock was in full re-election campaign mode, it became clear that our state was experiencing a revenue problem and members of the legislature budget committee reached out to plead for action. The reasons for the revenue decline may have been outside of the Governor’s control, but he was the only one who could have taken action at that point to prevent further loss. Instead, we entered the 2017 Legislature with a serious and immediate budget problem.
Not only did the legislature do the incredibly hard work of passing a responsible, balanced budget that reduces the size of our state government. We also passed legislation to prevent future budget crisis. We worked with the Governor and his budget director to set parameters so that in times of excess we will save, and in times of shortfall we know what agencies may have budget cuts due to revenue “triggers.”
The leadership’s intent is clear: when revenue is low we will prioritize essential services, cut back on budget increases and cut government bureaucracy.
I recently spoke with someone who questioned my assertion that families across Montana are experiencing tight financial times. He said that when he walks around Helena he sees people in shops and restaurants and there are good-paying jobs available. Herein lies the problem – government is growing and the economy in our state’s capitol is doing just fine. Bureaucrats in Helena should pay visit to my part of the state. In eastern Montana, families are faced with record-low ag and cattle prices and are literally fighting fires to keep their livelihood.
I encourage Montanans to take a step back to look at the big picture of our state economy. For a variety of reasons revenues have continued to decline in the first half of 2017, and our state government must make responsible and tough choices now to avoid further damage.
Austin Knudsen is Montana Speaker of the House.