Guest opinion: Vetoes necessary to balance state budget

2013-06-02T00:05:00Z Guest opinion: Vetoes necessary to balance state budgetBy STEVE BULLOCK Montana Governor The Billings Gazette
June 02, 2013 12:05 am  • 

As governor, my top priority is job creation. To create jobs, we need a strong economy. Running a tight fiscal ship and balancing the state budget are critical for our economic strength.

A balanced budget is not just a good idea, it’s the law. The Montana Constitution requires our elected Legislature to do only one thing: pass a balanced budget.

I understand there has been some frustration that I vetoed a bill that would have provided additional money for infrastructure in our oil and gas producing counties. That’s a frustration I share, for several reasons.

First, the 63rd Legislature passed a budget that spent more than $20 million more than we’re taking in. As the legislators departed Helena, they left behind a budget that wasn’t balanced.

In my State of the State address, I told the Legislature that if they failed to pass a balanced budget, I might need to veto some otherwise good bills. I even said, “Keep in mind that if I pull out my veto pen, it might not be personal, it might just be fiscal.”

Our constitution and our constituents demand better than budget deficits. Deficits might be acceptable in Washington D.C., but not here. So, unfortunately, I was forced to pull out that veto pen — even on measures I wished I could have supported. Just like small businesses and working families, I take fiscal responsibility very seriously.

Bonding plan rejected

Second, there was a way we could have done more. I encouraged legislators from both parties to join me in using historically low interest rates and Montana’s sterling bond rating to fund these projects. I explained that by using our bonding authority, we could invest millions more and create thousands of jobs, while still balancing our budget. Unfortunately, the message from Republican leadership — including some from Eastern Montana — was clear: they wouldn’t allow Montana to do what prudent businesses around the country are doing and use low-interest bonds to invest in our future.

And third, as I told legislators before I was even sworn in as governor and all the way until the last day of the session, I expected them to make sure we had a rainy day fund of $300 million when they left town. Keeping a little in the bank in case of a bad fire or flood season, or other unanticipated emergencies, just makes sense. To ensure our rainy day fund was preserved, I had to cut a whopping $150 million out of the bills and budget they left me to manage.

Despite the need to curtail the legislative spending spree, Montana will still be making historic investments in the things that are most important: job creation, public schools, and infrastructure.

Eastern MT investments

Over the next two years, in Montana’s oil and gas producing counties, these investments will include more than $16 million for infrastructure needs, $22 million of additional funding to school districts facing development impacts and, for the first time ever, full funding of regional water systems. This is in addition to the approximately $100 million of oil and gas tax revenues provided directly to our counties and school districts each year.

As we move forward, more can — and should — be done to address Montana’s infrastructure needs. We must all work together to find ways to do so that are fiscally responsible and forward-looking, and that fairly share the costs.

If Montana’s going to continue to create jobs and attract businesses to invest here, we can’t be a place that has a budget awash in red ink. As governor, I want to give our kids a world class education and reliable infrastructure — not budget deficits that will lead to higher taxes. Finding a responsible way to provide that education and solid infrastructure is exactly what I’m going to do as your governor.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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