Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Gazette editorial page begins its honeymoon with Roy Brown

The Billings Gazette editors certainly picked a great day to run an editorial about the Old Fund liability issue -- right after Sen. Roy Brown set a date for the formal launch of his campaign for governor, and the day before the scheduled formal announcement.

The piece itself is a typical Gazette editorial that throws together a bunch of mushy alternating statements, first putting the 2003 Republican legislature in a bad light and then acknowledging mitigating factors and shared blame between the parties involved. But tempted as we are to critique, once again, the turgid prose and confused organization of Gazette editorials, our emphasis today is on content.

The piece culminates with highlighting then House Majority Leader Roy Brown's sponsorship of the bill that borrowed $23 million from the Old Fund as part of a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to address a projected $232 million budget deficit, although the editorial does acknowledge that the bill had overwhelming bipartisan support.

The Gazette editorial writer then wraps up with a final "pay as you go" scold (presumably Gazette editorials at the time were advocating $23 million in addition tax increases or program cuts -- we can't find it in the Gazette archives, but maybe it's hiding somewhere.)

In short, the net effect of the piece seems to send a not-so-subtle message that Republicans are fiscally unreliable -- not particularly helpful to Sen. Brown's campaign, given that he is rightly running his campaign at least in part on the reckless 40% state spending increase we have endured over the last 4 years.

One wonders, though, whether the editorial writers at the Gazette bother to read their own newspaper.

You see, Gazette reporter Jim Gransbery -- on the very same day, wrote an excellent article that includes key information about what happened in the 2005 legislative session that was left out of the editorial. But not once in the editorial is the year 2005 even mentioned, even though presumably the editors got a sneak preview of Granbery's piece.

Yes, right there in the news section of the Gazette itself is the rest of the story. Namely, the story of what happened in the very next session after the money was borrowed from the Old Fund:

When the state's financial situation improved, Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, introduced a bill in 2005 to repay the Old Fund, but the bill was tabled on a party-line vote in a committee controlled by the Democrats, (Sen.) Brown said.

He said Esp approached the governor's budget director, David Ewer, about repaying the money, but nothing came of the overture.

Ewer said Tuesday he recalled vaguely Esp's effort, but his office did not take part in any of the hearings of Esp's bill.

Brown said that with a $1 billion surplus in the state's checking account this year, the Schweitzer administration made no effort to repay the money when the Legislature was in session.

Isn't that fascinating? David Ewer only "vaguely recalls" GOP efforts to repay the money, and apparently didn't bother going to the hearings about a bill that would have paid back the money in 2005 -- obviating the need even to be discussing this issue in 2007.

Given the budget director's, shall we say, colorful performances in the last legislative session, we find it hard to believe that he would pass up an opportunity to weigh in publicly with his opinion.

Unless, that is, the executive branch and the 2005 Democratic legislature was in such dither to get down to spending as much money as possible that they didn't want to have their allowance cut by $23 million plus interest.

And then, there was a $1 billion surplus this last session. Couldn't the executive branch have done with a little less of a spending spree and cut $23 million free somehow?

The 2003 legislature did what it had to do in the face of a deficit -- if anything, Sen. Brown and the Republican legislature should be praised for finding a comprehensive solution for situation it faced. They raised some taxes, but avoided raising taxes that would hurt the economy and jeopardize future tax revenues. They cut spending, but by borrowing a little of the government's own money avoided even deeper cuts.

Republicans had faith that the economy would improve, and that the money would then be available to replenish the fund. And at the very next session, that's exactly what they tried to do -- to no avail.

So, why didn't the Gazette editorial mention any of this? Why didn't it mention the events of 2005?

Maybe there's more to the 2005 story than Gransbery was able to dig up -- but then why didn't the Gazette hold off on on an editorial that prominently features Sen. Brown in a negative light until that paper could get the story straight?

Was it more important to get that editorial published the day before Sen. Brown's formal announcement of his candidacy for governor?

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