State Agencies Asked for 4 Percent Cut in Personnel

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The state’s next two-year budget is likely to be lower than current spending and the governor is asking most agencies to identify 4 percent cuts in personnel budgets.

Budget Director David Ewer told agency directors last week to submit the proposed cuts as the state begins planning for the 2012-13 budget.

“This is only a starting point,” Ewer said Tuesday. “We don’t have to submit our budget until November. We’re showing fiscal discipline today; it’s always easier to add later than to cut later.”

Ewer’s 12-page memo also told directors to include a 2 percent across-the-board cut directed by the 2009 Legislature and 5 percent spending cuts ordered by Gov. Brian Schweitzer this month.

The memo says lagging tax revenue means an unusually tight budget next year, with no proposed increases in general fund spending and “limited” chances for increases in programs funded by other sources.

The 4 percent personnel reduction is limited to personnel costs paid for by the general fund, and agencies facing the biggest personnel budget cuts include Public Health and Human Services at $3.7 million, Corrections at $2.8 million and Revenue at $1.4 million over the two-year budget.

The Department of Transportation — which is funded mostly by fuel taxes — and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks — funded mostly by fishing and hunting licenses — are largely exempt from proposing any personnel reductions.

Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT, the state’s largest public sector union, called the request for proposed personnel cuts “very discouraging news.”

“The people who work for the state of Montana are going to be sorely stressed by the information that says … not only is there going to be a freeze in pay, but perhaps layoffs, too,” Feaver said, adding that legislatures in other states have increased taxes.

Schweitzer, a Democrat, has said he won’t support any tax increases.

“The governor has said that we’re going to live within our means, and the Schweitzer administration is not going to support increasing taxes,” Ewer said.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.