Thursday, January 25, 2007

Scott Sales: Santa Claus is coming to town

It was politics as usual at the governor's State of the State address. There were, as the Billings Gazette subheadline put it "no new policy initiatives," so there is nothing particular in the speech to comment on. Schweitzer is a skilled and persuasive speaker -- Republicans are fortunate that hardly anyone watches these speeches.

There were indeed a number of points of common ground for Republicans and Democrats to agree on. This is hardly surprising, though, since, as Republican House Speaker Scott Sales said in his broadcast response, "Santa Claus came 11 months early.... When you promise everything to everybody, that sounds good."

Indeed. The major sticking point for Sales and most Republicans is that "a 26 percent increase in state spending over a two-year period is not sustainable and not affordable."

Future generations do indeed have to deal with permanent, as opposed to one-time, spending. The governor softened that by emphasizing the fact that he would be doing no bonding -- i.e. borrowing money to pay for one-time projects. He stated this as though Republicans would have bonded things in the face of a large surplus, which is highly doubtful.

The budget is being touted as the most conservative and fiscally responsible budget ever, but it's pretty easy to be fiscally responsible in the face of a large projected budget surplus. One recalls the Bush-Gore debates of 2000, where both candidates had the luxury of debating how to spend a surplus.

But as Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Caldwell, is quoted as saying in the Butte Montana Standard, “it’s a projection; it’s not in the bank.’’

The test of how conservative his budgeting is will be what Schweitzer will ask a special session to do if all of that money doesn't materialize.