HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer called for more accurate financial estimates from the Legislature’s Republican leadership in a public meeting with the lawmakers Thursday morning.
The Democratic governor told House Speaker Mike Milburn and Senate President Jim Peterson that he believes Republicans are using inaccurate revenue estimates to draft the state’s budget. He asked if bad numbers might be behind their workers compensation bill as well.
Republicans say their revenue estimates are the best available from professional analysts and the governor’s calls for more spending are speculative and unwise.
The partisan squabble over the total money available for the state’s budget has been the focus of lawmakers recently and the issue will likely prove to be a flashpoint as the Legislative session draws on.
Schweitzer said the state has routinely underestimated its total amount of revenue. With signs of a prosperous year ahead he said the state should adjust the revenue estimates upward accordingly.
“I’m not suggesting that we inflate our revenue estimates by any stretch of the imagination, I just think that we need honest revenue estimates,” Schweitzer said.
The governor’s office proposed budget calls for much higher overall spending than Republicans feel they have to work with.
Republicans say they have to make sure the state spends no more than it takes in from tax revenue and the governor’s spending proposal unwisely uses one time funds that should be saved.
Milburn said the governor is asking to become a speculator on the budget instead of using the estimates from professional staff. He emphasized the importance of saving some of the state’s revenue.
“That’s been what’s wrong with our budgets in the past is that our budget has always been developed on what we get, we can’t do that,” Milburn said.
The governor also suggested he may take a tough view of the pending workers compensation reform bill carried by a Republican.
Schweitzer said workers compensation in Montana may not be as broken as the Republicans make it out to be. He also questioned whether the math the reform is based off might be wrong.
“I don’t want to use bad numbers to create a system that 15 years from now that somebody calls into question what we did,” Schweitzer said.
He asked if it may be better to put off the proposed reform until another session so the system isn’t made worse.
Milburn said he was surprised by the suggestion of postponing reform and both Republican leaders said they think the time is now to fix the system.
Schweitzer, Milburn and Peterson have met several times since the session began even as the governor’s criticism of GOP measures has been increasing. Thursday was their second meeting open to the public.
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