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Stop pointing fingers, face the facts about state budget

As governor of Montana, it’s my job to responsibly manage the state through everything from a difficult fire season and the challenges posed by increasing drought conditions to making sure we take advantage of the opportunities presented by our growing outdoor recreation economy. This includes making tough decisions during lean budget times.

Right now there is an unusual state of affairs in Montana. On one hand, we have one of the strongest economies in the nation, with some of the fastest-growing household incomes, historic low unemployment, and one of the top rates for new business startups in the country. However, the revenues that fund our government do not reflect our economic growth. Why is this the case? How can these two things happen simultaneously?

Foremost, for years Republican legislators have insisted on giving a large tax break every year to the wealthiest corporations and people in Montana, some of whom don’t even reside here. These tax breaks have cost our state almost $2 billion since they were enacted. No matter how healthy the economy, if you keep cutting taxes for the wealthiest individuals, you will eventually run out of money to pay for everything from teachers and schools to firefighters and prison guards.

Second, the market prices of coal and oil, which the state partly depends upon to fund services, have been low the last few years. I had a fix for these problems in the last legislature when I proposed a balanced budget that addressed our revenue challenges and kept money in the bank for a rainy day.

But Republican legislators rejected my budget, made up overly optimistic budget projections, and then mandated cuts to services Montana families, children, and seniors depend on in case they were wrong. Those cuts – which my administration must implement following the letter of the law passed by the legislature – are automatically going into effect right now. No matter how the Republican legislators might now try to spin it, these cuts were of their own making, and avoidable.

Right now, as the economy continues its growth, my administration is doing everything it can to continue to provide essential services Montanans deserve while being as efficient as possible with taxpayer money. In fact, fewer people work in state government now than when I took office. But the irresponsible decisions of Republican legislators now pose threats to education, healthcare, and public safety. They are putting Montanans at risk of higher healthcare costs and property taxes and less money to pay the men and women teaching our kids and keeping our communities safe.

Those legislators that rejected my proposed budget must stop pointing fingers and instead face reality and face the facts. When they next come back to Helena I hope they will be more honest with Montanans about our budget and work with me to find commonsense solutions to the basic underlying problems facing our state. Future generations of Montanans deserve no less.

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