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
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
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
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 email@example.com to let him know you
have his back.