Shake out millions of dollars in bloated state budget to use for good programs

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock called a special session for next week in Helena. He is interested in some cuts and transfers in state government to shore up the shaky budget. Also included, however, will be “temporary revenue increases” i.e. more taxes for working Montanans.

Referring to the tax increases in a recent news article he stated, “In order to do that, though, I need to have a willing dance partner.”

I think the legislators should sit this dance out. He has had ample opportunity to get the budget realigned without a special session and has been doing the tango across the state with groups who are concerned about their budgets.

I think this is the time in the dance card to eliminate more ‘vacancy savings’ and be more creative to not cut funds to help our neediest populations.

Legislative Audit looked into vacancy savings during a performance audit in 2004. At that time the vacancies had doubled in a 12-year period with over a thousand unfilled positions in state government. Three hundred had been vacant for more than a year.

Thirteen years ago it would have amounted to a savings of between $21 and $34 million for the biennium. What would it be now? How many ‘vacant’ positions are there still in state government, allowing agencies to use the money without going through the appropriation process?

It’s time to do the jitter bug and shake out the millions of dollars in bloated budgets in order to allow good programs to continue functioning without cuts.

No matter how you twist the facts, Gov. Bullock’s budget was his making. Now he must shimmy his way into correcting it without the loco-motion of the legislature.

We may have to swim into Helena for one vote to fix the fire funds and make small tweaks to others, but nothing else. Will I go to Helena and vote for tax increases, no matter how “temporary” they are? No way!

The spotlight’s on you, Gov. Bullock. Tax increases are your solution to getting us out of the mess? Time for the “pas seul.” Solo it is with you in the limelight.

Republican Dee Brown of Hungry Horse represents Senate District 2 in the Montana Legislature.

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