Congress and President Trump funded the federal government for a whopping six months last Friday without an ounce of consideration for our nation’s debt ($21 trillion and climbing). What is worse, the budget bill was drafted in private by a few senators and released only hours before passage. Intentionally blinding legislators to the content of spending bills has become common – and apparently accepted – practice in Washington, D.C. For our additional $1.3 trillion in spending, we see most government programs getting an increase in their respective budgets. If we can’t even get a budget that provides level funding for these programs, much less actual budget cuts to account for the ever-increasing deficit, financial failure is our destiny.
It is heartening that Montana’s Republican congressional delegation voted against this most recent Omnibus bill, however, these votes were dwarfed by the votes of other Republicans and Democrats who clearly do not care one whit about the burgeoning deficit. The ambivalence to the sucking chest wound of debt laying in front of Congress is astounding.
Congress has bought itself six months to plan for the next budget bill. If the next budget bill fails to address the deficit, fails to reduce or cut unnecessary government programs, and serves to only expand the scope and function of government, Montana state and local governments would be well advised to rekindle self-reliant strategies to weather the financial and economic storm that is brewing.
President Trump has already forecasted a smaller federal government. What he may not be able to accomplish by policy will be done by necessity when our nation’s creditors come calling. As a state we must plan for less federal subsidies of our infrastructure and educational needs. Locally, we should plan for less federal grant funding, and Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding. The gas tax, while not politically popular in some circles, helps offset our state’s reliance on federal funding for infrastructure, and is partially funded by out-of-state tourists limiting the burden on Montanans. Flathead County re-allocated PILT funding five years ago from its ongoing operations budget to its capital project budget, thereby reducing our county’s reliance on federal funding. Other jurisdictions would be wise to follow this lead.
It has become eminently clear we cannot effect the federal government’s fiscal mismanagement; thus, we must pivot and make policy decisions locally that result in less reliance on federal government funding. Montanans are known for their independence, fiscal responsibility and self-reliant values. Now more than ever it is imperative that our state and local governments reflect these same values in budgeting and legislation, or else be left at the mercy of a plainly incompetent federal government.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.
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