Schweitzer Strikes $4.5 Million from Budget

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday he is using his line-item veto authority to take a small amount of money out of the state’s spending plan, including extra cash given to the Montana Meth Project.

The governor largely agreed with the spending plan. He commended the Legislature for “passing a fiscally prudent budget through which Montana will live within its means.”

But Schweitzer said he is cutting out $4.5 million of spending in the stimulus spending plan known as House Bill 645 — and striking language to ensure the money will stay in the state’s reserves. The governor didn’t make any changes to the main state budget, known as House Bill 2.

Overall, the main budget spends about $8 billion in state and federal money, while the accompanying federal stimulus bill authorizes another $900 million in spending.

The governor says he took out $500,000 allotted to the private Montana Meth Project in HB645 because he says the state is already giving it half a million dollars in HB2.

Schweitzer also noted that the project was already given $1 million in state money in 2007. He said the project would have to increase private fundraising or tighten its belt like many others are doing.

“Again, given these economically difficult times, I do not believe the additional appropriation to this program of $500,000 in state general funds contained in House Bill 645 is warranted, and for this reason I have vetoed that appropriation,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer also took out $2 million for state agricultural experiment stations that rural Republicans had pushed for, saying the stations already have sufficient funding. His vetoes also slashed $2 million from a loan program that aimed to help first-time home buyers.

Schweitzer said the loan program was more about the state taking risk from banks and less about helping home buyers.

Senate President Bob Story, R-Park City, said he thinks Schweitzer got the program wrong. He said it was designed to let people borrow money for a down payment that would be paid back with coming federal home buyer credits.

He also lamented the loss of the ag research station money because he said it was targeted to the one-time purchase of needed equipment.

“It would have been a great help to the experiment stations,” Story said. “It depends on where your priorities are, and I guess the governor has different priorities.”

The Legislature finished up its work late last month, reaching a budget compromise on the 90th and final day of the session. Republicans controlled the Senate, while Democrats had organizational control of a 50-50 House.

Story said Senate Republicans worked to cut millions in spending from the budget plan in negotiations with the House. But he said it doesn’t make sense for the governor to cut spending from the stimulus bill aimed at putting money into the economy and needed programs as intended by the federal program.

“Apparently, he would just rather have it sitting in the bank,” Story said.

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