With the recent announcement made by Governor Steve Bullock that State Agencies are expected to make a 10% across the board cuts, readers should expect some serious finger pointing over the next few days.
As the Montana Standard illustrated in their recent write up on budget negotiations and text messages, there were many parties involved in the negotiation for Montana’s biennium budget and the massive bonding deal. This makes for the perfect environment for everyone to blame everyone. Democrats will blame Republicans, Bullock will blame Knudsen, Republicans will blame Democrats, Knudsen will blame Bullock. It’s the same old song and dance we’ve grown accustomed to from politicians of all stripes.
What we do know is that it’s serious. Montana is not in good fiscal health right now. Just last month Montana’s budget shortfall triggered $97 million in cuts. Predominantly hitting schools and health programs. This is a budget mechanism put in place to ensure Montana maintains its constitutionally required balanced budget.
What we also know is that the state cannot afford to fight our own wild fires. This summer the feds rejected Montana’s plea to pay for 75% of firefighting costs aimed at the disastrous Lodgepole Complex fire. Only to then reverse their position shortly after. Why would the feds initially reject federal funding for the nation’s largest fire?
Our analysts believe it is because while reviewing the proposal, it became abundantly clear Bullock did not care to properly fund firefighting programs. This is not a far out proposal given that in November of 2016, Bullock wanted to raid the fire fund by $25 million. The governor’s budget director Dan Villa confidently stated:
“Based on our projections, we’ll have about a solid $50 million to fight fires over the next biennium”
In fact due to automatic budget cuts that have already been mandated, $30 million in firefighting funds have already been drained. When the feds looked at our proposal for aid, they probably saw Bullock’s budget for what it is. Propping up pet projects and increasing agency spending, while shifting the cost of programs like firefighting to “federal assistance.” This allows the governor to tout the success of his efforts, while being able to stretch the state budget as far as he can hedging his bets that the feds will come to the rescue if things get too bad.
Bullock’s administration has always attempted to play budget games to advance their agenda. While proposing boutique government programs like Medicaid Expansion and Universal Pre-Kindergarten, he balances the sheets by raiding other government funds. This type of budget management is not only irresponsible towards the taxpayers of Montana, but has also put the livelihoods of thousands of fine State Employees at risk.
It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to Montana. So while all the finger pointing persists, don’t pin it on some bonding vote that would have put us further into debt as a state, don’t blame leadership for not playing Bullock’s games. Blame the administration that has seen our state budget go from nearly $1 billion in surplus revenue to automatic across the board 10% budget cuts.
Montana deserves better.