Friday, December 29, 2006

Schweitzer budget needs revamping

Montana Headlines is on a roll -- again, it must be pointed out that in the most important article in today's Gazette that concerns Montana politics, the article and headline are fair.

Gov. Schweitzer claims that his "budget works", but as the article makes clear, budget analysts have serious questions about this.

Specifically, Schweitzer tries to emphasize the one-time expenditures, and minimize the ongoing budget increases. This is good political strategy for him, since most businessmen, farmers, ranchers, etc... in Montana understand that when one has a good year, it makes sense to do some one-time spending to upgrade or replace equipment, etc...

It also makes sense to use a good part of the current surplus for infrastructure spending that can be agreed on by both Republicans and Democrats.

The ongoing spending increases include the addition of 400 new government employees, who are nearly impossible to eliminate once in place. The addition of more employees would furthermore bolster the biggest lobbying bloc in the state -- state employees advocating for their own departmental spending. This is something Montana really doesn't need right now, but is certainly in the best interests of Democrat politics and policies.

If the Republican-controlled House is smart, it will find one-time spending initiatives that will benefit the state's economy and do necessary infrastructure improvement. The Republicans should also approve increases in ongoing spending on select, necessary, state services, since the cost of doing anything does creep up over time.

The House should also insist on a good "rainy-day" fund for the bad years that inevitably come, especially for states which depend on volatile income-tax revenue rather than sales-tax revenue, which is much more steady and dependable, regardless of its own admitted disadvantages.

The Schweitzer proposal as he describes it isn't bad -- a combination of one-time spending, some increase in ongoing spending, tax relief, and saving for a rainy day.

The specific mix, however, needs some serious Republican overhauling. One hopes that the GOP leadership concentrates on what is good for Montana, and doesn't focus on scoring political points against Schweitzer. If they do their jobs and articulate their proposals intelligently, the political points will follow.