Weekly Posting of the Conservative Cow Doctor


Jenny Craig Weighs the Budget

If you can’t stick to your New Year’s, Jenny Craig diet, perhaps you should use a technique perfected by Congress. They too tried to lose weight (shrink the federal budget), but since that is onerous, they are contemplating simply raising the federal debt ceiling somewhere generously above14.3 trillion dollars.

Analogically, raising the debt ceiling is like me raising my target body weight to 250 pounds rather than the 180 pounds I resolved to on December 31st. Since I currently squash the scale to 190, by raising my personal weight ceiling, I discover I actually need to gain 60, rather than lose 10 pounds. What a relief. This gives me a much more optimistic outlook as I enter the “fat steaks and whiskey” phase of the legislative session. (Life is easy when you are a politician and you can lower the achievement bar to happier levels.) Similarly, we members of Montana’s 62nd legislative session have been hunting for painless ways to diet $360 million from our state budget. Since our state constitution does not give us a debt ceiling option, we must trim things to balance the budget. In sessions past, the budgeting process was simply a matter of adding up all the money we thought we had, or would receive, and then spending it.

Just like “he who dies with the most toys wins,” legislators who spent the most money in their home districts were hailed as heroes. For example, since 2007 previous legislators have spent $300,000 of your tax money for the “Cultural development of Butte”. (Silver Bow County residents sing Irish folk songs in honor of their legislators every St. Patrick’s Day.) Because all spending has been based on how many dollars we had, rather than on services we actually needed, Montana’s government has grown at pathological rates. It now takes nearly $8 billion to keep our Treasure State operating for just two years.

These first five days we have been briefed by state agencies regarding their biennium wish list. As expected, every agency claims to be operating at bare bone levels and simply cannot find any possible cuts. They don’t get the picture. I optimistically, albeit futilely, hope someday a department head will step to the microphone and confess, “Please cut my budget. We are running out of cookie jars in which to hide all the extra money.” It will never happen.

Here is our status at the end of week one: Montana’s governor is using very optimistic revenue figures and some of the most intriguing budget shifts and fund transfers to balance his budget. He and his budget director keep humming the 1959 Ethel Merman hit, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”; others are less enthusiastic.

The Legislative Fiscal Division (LFD), the money gurus hired by the legislative branch, take a not-so-rosy view revenues will be down, so we must trim $360 million. This disparity has been argued back and forth as to who is the more accurate speculator. Since guessing is not the ideal technique upon which to bet your paycheck, consider this worst-case-scenario model: If we use LFD figures and they are wrong, Montana will be $360 million above water by 2013. If we use the governor’s figures and they are wrong, we will be sinking $360 million below the surface. Take your pick. (Remember, neither position addresses the real budget buster; a $3.5 billion shortfall in the state pension plan.)

The House Tax Committee is the final arbiter establishing which revenue estimate will be used. Your freedom now rests on the shoulders of House Tax Committee members under the direction of Chairman Mark Blasdel. They will suffer enormous, unyielding, unmerciful pressure from progressives to accept the governor’s revenue estimate and spend money. Fortunately for Montana, Chairman Blasdel is a rock. An e-mail, letter, phone call (or twenty-seven-hundred of each) from patriots supporting the more conservative estimate, might help keep Montana in the black. You can reach Rep. Blasdel at mblasdel@bresnan.net to let him know you have his back.

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