For the past few months, Montanans have been hearing about the current shortfall in revenue in this past year than the legislature previously projected. This reality will make this biennium’s budget debate tougher than the past few sessions. While targeted cuts are likely in the face of this leaner revenue projection, it is also important to remember that the investments we make – from quality schools, improved roads, and public safety – help create thriving communities where we can all live and work.
As the budget moves forward, we will walk through some of the terms and what legislators are considering during the debates.
One budget cutting measure often used is “vacancy savings.” Vacancy savings is the difference between what it would cost to fully fund all of an agency’s approved positions and what is actually spent for personal services because positions were vacant for part of the year.
The Legislature can mandate a certain amount of vacancy savings by appropriating less than the amount needed to fully fund all of an agency’s positions. When vacancy savings are higher than naturally occur because of turnovers, agencies must leave positions open for longer than normal or decide not to rehire.
Since 2003, most agency budgets have included a four percent vacancy savings rate. This rate has fluctuated in past sessions. In this session, the Governor’s proposed budget reflects a four percent vacancy savings for most agencies. However, the joint Appropriations and Finance & Claims Committees are considering even further cuts from the Governor’s proposed budget, including an additional two percent vacancy savings.
While some will argue vacancy savings as a harmless cost cutting measure, the reality is that vacancy savings results in the loss of state jobs and potential of services to be cut or reduced in communities. State agencies that we all rely upon must continue to do more with fewer resources and fewer staff. The effects of these cuts are seen across the state, in both small and large communities.
However, there is something the legislature can do about our current financial position – we can bring in more revenue. There are a variety of ways we can make our tax system fairer and raise much needed revenue for our public schools, higher education, health care, infrastructure, and public safety. We can close loopholes and stop the unfair tax breaks that benefit the super wealthy and out-of-state corporations. We can make sure that we are all pulling our weight and have enough revenue to invest in our communities.