Schweitzer Trims Budget Proposal by $140 Million

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer unveiled a revised budget Monday that trims his original proposal by about $140 million in state spending.

The governor said the action is needed to deal with declining revenue projections as the national recession continues.

“We are going to batten down the hatches,” Schweitzer said. “I don’t know what is coming next, but we are going to be ready for it.”

Monday was the last day for the governor to make changes in his budget, which will go to the Legislature next month. Lawmakers will prepare a final spending plan that Schweitzer ultimately will be asked to sign.

Schweitzer said he is sticking with plans for large reserves. He wants lawmakers to set aside a big contingency fund in case the recession has a larger impact on Montana tax revenues than is now anticipated, he said.

Republican legislative leaders say they, too, want large reserves.

Senate President Bob Story, R-Park City, said he’s glad to see the governor reduce the spending proposal.

“They are certainly making a good effort to bring the totals down,” Story said.

The Republican leader said the most interesting part of the package will come in the details, which will determine the political feasibility of Schweitzer’s proposal.

Spending under the governor’s proposed budget for the next two years would be reduced compared to the past two years. The Schweitzer administration is revising its revenue estimate downward by about $100 million since releasing its budget proposal in mid-November.

Schweitzer has stood strongly against the notion of any tax increases, a position welcomed so far by both Democratic and Republican leaders.

“If people were expecting me to raise taxes because we are having a downturn, they elected the wrong governor,” Schweitzer said.

Many Republicans who ran for office had platforms to reduce property taxes. But Story said he recognizes that reductions would be a tough sell amid an environment of declining revenue projections — even though Republicans largely believe such tax cuts would spur the economy and lead to greater overall revenue collections.

Schweitzer’s new proposal makes reductions in the biggest areas of state government, including education. Spending plans for both kindergarten through high school and for the state university system were reduced by millions.

State agencies across the board will be asked to trim their work forces by leaving more vacant positions unfilled. Less money is set aside for raises.

But Schweitzer said key programs won’t be cut compared to spending levels of the past two years.

“I’ve asked the people who work for me to deliver more services with less money,” he said.

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