Some Republican legislators have been trying to convince the public that the state’s budget, and its economy, are in a shambles, and that it’s all Gov. Steve Bullock’s fault. But as legislators who voted alongside our Republican colleagues in support of the budget during the last legislative session, we think Montanans deserve the truth rather than election year rhetoric.
The truth is that we are working with a budget that was put together by a Republican-controlled legislature. As with any budget, expenditures had to match estimated revenues, and it was a Republican senator, Fred Thomas, who presided over the committee that estimated what revenues would be. In this process, there was always the possibility that we would get the revenue numbers wrong, and recognizing that, Bullock insisted that we keep a healthy balance in the bank to meet any unforeseen shortfalls.
Ready for rainy day
We did get the revenue number wrong, we did have to dip into that rainy day reserve, and we are all fortunate that the governor had the foresight to insist that it be there to dip into. Otherwise, we would have been forced to roll back needed spending on schools, roads, health care and other vital services. The fact that our reserves are dwindling is not a sign of fiscal mismanagement, but of fiscal prudence. We were prepared for a rainy day.
It is particularly ironic that Republican legislators go after the governor for fiscal mismanagement when, if they had gotten their way, the situation today would be a lot worse. Throughout the session Republicans sent tax cut measures to the Governor that would truly have busted the budget. They also proposed spending cash reserves on infrastructure. The Governor resisted these measures forcefully, and in the end, that turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. Voters should be very wary of politicians, like Greg Gianforte, who promise to be fiscally responsible in one breath, and to slash taxes for the wealthy in the next.
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Some Republican colleagues also argue that our current budget challenges are the result of declining production in oil and gas, coal, and other natural resource industries, and again, try to pin that decline on Bullock. But the governor of Montana has no control over the forces that are shaping and shaking the natural resource and energy markets. Try as we might, we cannot raise the price of oil or keep cheap natural gas from displacing coal.
Faced with the boom and bust cycle in natural resource markets, the smart thing to do is to keep some cash on hand to make up for flagging revenue, and to foster a diversified and adaptable economy. That’s what Governor Bullock has been doing. There are more Montanans working now than ever. Unemployment rates are below, and wages are rising faster than, national averages. And unlike other states that are less diverse and more dependent on natural resources, we’ve been able to weather the inevitable ups and downs in the energy industry.
Montana’s economic and fiscal state is strong and resilient. Under Bullock’s leadership, we are well prepared for what comes our way.