Government cost-cutting, not taxes, is the answer

Print Article

Droughts. Firestorms. Crashed commodity prices. Coal fired energy plants shutting down. Stores on main street closing. One doesn’t have to look far to see Montanan’s suffering. When the executive proposes tax increases as the preferred solution for government’s current shortfalls, I find myself unconvinced. For me, tightening the government’s purse strings is the place to begin.

Yes, cutting is hard. Ask the cattleman whose calf crop is worth 50 percent, or the rancher whose hay burned, or the farmer with droughted crops and low prices, or the main street businessman whose customers have little money to spend, or the employee whose job was eliminated. These private Montanans have no choice but live within their means.

Because cuts impact government employees (good people hired to do a job) and the government services many rely upon, the easiest answer for government is always “tax someone” and get more money. If the resource economy were booming, asking Montanans to share a little more with schools, nursing homes, and prisons might be in order. However, today that “someone” facing a tax increase is likely a Montana business or individual already struggling to survive.

Montana law provides the Governor with a reduction mechanism, where, if state revenues (taxpayer dollars) come in low, he can mandate government spending cuts. I recognize this is challenging as state dollars are primarily spent on education, incarceration, and medication. Nonetheless, it is the Governor’s job to lead here.

Why is revenue unpredictable? Growing revenue volatility is the harsh reality in Montana as state government is dependent upon highly volatile income taxes. Montana can expect income taxes to drop when commodity prices fall and/or there is drought. In addition, there has been a deferral of income tax receipts as payers wait to see if the Trump tax package has legs. As these factors mitigate, it is likely that tax receipts will improve.

People in Montana save when times are good and tighten the purse strings when times are hard. Last session, I passed legislation to ensure that government had to play by these same rules. But, as this mechanism is new, it’s worth can only be evaluated in a future crisis.

As to the political blame game, I too wish the revenue had come in higher and/or that the executive had reacted sooner to previous shortfalls thus preserving Montana’s 300 million reserve to mitigate today’s crisis.

This is not the case. The reality: Today the governor has a choice. Times are tough. Will he tighten the purse strings or will he ask for more taxes?

From my perspective, the Governor needs to do the job the law authorized and cut government expenditures to what Montanans can currently afford. He needs to work to propose cuts that impact services on the ground the least. He needs to select cuts that have the lowest impact possible on current government employees. In these tough times, he needs to be fiscally prudent and make the difficult decisions expected of a leader. While Montana has little choice other than pay its share of the fire bill, I would hope that the smoke-filled air will drive policy reforms supporting the wise harvest of timber, rather than the current political reality where unharvested timber becomes the fuel for unstoppable firestorms.

Currently I pray for rain and hope for a bump in the price of commodities. I will not support permanent tax increases during these down times. I remain hopefully, as most Montana families do, that next year will be a better one for my district, for Montana and for this nation.

Montana Sen. Llew Jones is chairman of Senate Finance and Claims.

Print Article

Read More Editorial

Congress cannot over- or under- compensate counties

April 06, 2018 at 2:00 am | Western News As the chair of the “Federal Land Payments Subcommittee of the National Association of Counties”, I feel it my duty to write this letter after hearing and reading about Mineral County, Montana sendin...

Comments

Read More

What happened to the Montana I used to know?

April 06, 2018 at 5:00 am | Western News Over spring break in 1993, a Montana Tech student was logging with his father. Working on the landing, he sensed that something wasn’t right. It turns out, his dad had fallen a tree that somehow en...

Comments

Read More

State should reconsider action against Hecla Mining Company

April 06, 2018 at 5:00 am | Western News The Lincoln County Commission wants to share our dismay with a recent decision by Montana DEQ and the Governor’s office to file a violation against Hecla Mining under the “permit prohibition” provisi...

Comments

Read More

We Montanans treasure our protected areas

April 06, 2018 at 5:00 am | Western News Lately we’ve heard a lot from our politicians about public lands and specifically Wilderness Study Areas. I’ve worked on public lands challenges, and wilderness protection, for nearly six years in NW...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 293-4124
311 California Ave.
Libby, MT 59923

©2018 The Western News Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X