As our constituents unpack how proposed cuts budget cuts will impact their communities, many have been reaching out to us lawmakers with their concerns. As elected representatives, it is our job to execute policy that best fits the needs and desires of the Montanans we serve, so thank you for communicating those needs.
So far, not in even one of the letters, emails, or phone calls that I’ve taken has anyone asked me to identify who to blame. While I feel that there is a very defensible justification for blaming the majority party, they most likely also feel that they have an equally valid justification for blaming the minority party. But none of this conversation has helped us get closer to a solution. In fact, as we dig in our heels, finding common ground becomes more challenging.
To the extent that I have contributed to this blame game, I apologize. I try to filter out politics and focus on policy, but I am not perfect. Now I will concentrate only on a path forward.
I think there are opportunities for us to develop a plan to deliver services that Montanans need from state agencies while limiting the extra burden Montanans may feel.
We still do not have a perfect understanding on why personal income receipts missed their mark so significantly, so it would seem practical not to institute any permanent solutions to a problem that we don’t yet have a firm grasp on.
During the last legislative session, some of our Republican friends crafted the Budget Stabilization Act. This legislation sought to create an account in which we would squirrel away funds during times when revenue exceeded expectations. This proposal was supported by several Democratic lawmakers including myself and was passed into law. In times like we are now facing when estimated revenue fails to materialize, we could make less impactful cuts and draw on the stabilization fund reserve to smooth out variations. It’s a very prudent way to level out year over year deviations in projected income.
I think that there is merit in instituting some temporary revenue measures. Now that we have a budget stabilization fund established, we have a solid vehicle that could be used to determine when those measures are no longer needed. Any programs initiated now to help generate revenue, should go away permanently once we are satisfied with the level of support in the stabilization fund. This sunset could be written into any proposals so Montanans can be assured that they will go away when no longer necessary.
In doing this, we can address the concerns of the people around the state most impacted by potential budget reductions, limit the timeframe that additional revenue would be needed, be in stronger position for similar crisis in the future, and use ideas from thoughtful leaders from both sides of the legislative aisle to get there. Montana was known for its spirit of cooperation in the recent past and there are many strong relationships among colleagues to draw from to help us get to that place again. And while I don’t think that my ideas are the perfect answer, it does give us a good place to start the conversation.