The significant but short-term reduction in revenue levels over the past two years is going to be a challenge for the 2017 Legislative session in Montana. It will require tough choices balancing budget cuts and new revenue.
Unfortunately, the legislature’s plan to start the new budget with almost $50 million in additional cuts beyond those in the Governor’s balanced budget proposal will make matters worse by hurting the economy and families.
If the legislature continues with their plan, they will begin the session by automatically implementing hundreds of cuts hidden in procedural decisions without a transparent discussion of their impacts. We don’t know where these cuts are coming from or whom they will impact. Montana has seen time and time again that cuts this dramatic hurt vulnerable children, students, local communities, and seniors.
What is happening?
The Joint Committees charged with debating the budget (the Senate Finance and Claims Committee and House Appropriations Committee) are discussing moving the starting point for budget decisions to make additional reductions to all state agencies below the Governor’s budget.
This is unnecessary.
The Governor’s budget, which already includes over $73 million in cuts to the state budget is a transparent starting point. It has pages and pages of detail that have been available to the public for weeks, and it was widely publicized. Second, the Governor’s budget is structurally balanced and restores the ending fund balance (effectively Montana’s rainy day fund) to $300 million by the end of the biennium. It is a good starting place for the Legislature to make modifications.
Last, cuts are not the only way to balance the budget. The Governor created his budget that does not rely on only budget cuts, but also addresses the current lack in revenues, by closing tax loopholes used by special interests and ensuring everyone is paying their fair share. The Governor found several new sources for revenue that make sure we are all pulling our weight and can bring in additional revenue available to fund state priorities.
It is not fair to ask college students to pay more for school while the super wealthy get massive tax breaks. It is not fair to cut funding to local schools already struggling to find quality teachers for the classroom when out-of-state corporations take advantage of tax loopholes.
While some cuts are inevitable, this Legislative plan ignores an opportunity to build toward a better economic future. We need a balanced approach to our economic challenges –one that includes new revenue to meet today’s needs and starts planning for our future.