Your Republican-led Legislature is in the process of compiling the budget for the next two years. We are not just talking about efficient state government, we are implementing it. We are doing this by focusing on reducing waste in bureaucracy, while at the same time retaining indispensable state services.
The Republican caucus is united behind the idea of no new or increased taxes while rejecting what the governor calls “revenue enhancers” (new taxes). Last session we began to focus on what government agencies have labeled as “non essential” spending. What we have found is fat that can and should be trimmed from state agencies.
For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) has over 400 empty job positions that are funded by your tax dollars. Over 100 of those empty job positions were vacant for over one year or more! That’s right, money was going to fund empty job positions that no one had occupied for over 12 months. This equates to the spending of millions of dollars.
This really brings up two questions: Why do we need to fund vacant positions that have been empty for a year or more? And, where did all the money go that was budgeted for those phantom positions which were never filled? The money allocated for these positions amounts to millions of dollars within DPHHS that presumably was moved around the department and spent elsewhere. If a family’s budgeted water bill comes in high one month but the electric bill comes in low, it makes sense to move the extra money in one column to cover the shortage in another. But when you budget for an expense that doesn’t exist for over a year, and are reluctant to show the Legislature where the budgeted money went, the system breaks down.
Communication between the executive branch departments and the legislative branch is key when your legislators are amassing a $11 billion budget. There has been an unacceptable lack of transparency by DPHHS with regard to their budget in general, which is 43 percent of total state spending.
By contrast, the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance offered to cut all of the permanent positions that have been vacant for more than a year. This translates to over a $1 million a year in savings. This is one small example of trimming the fat of bureaucracy and government being responsible to the people. This is responsible management of a state agency. It makes us wonder why DPHHS is making the Legislature do what they should be doing themselves.
We are more than halfway done with the 66th legislative session. There are weeks left to finish the work of balancing the taxpayers checkbook. As it stands now, many of the long time vacant job positions have been eliminated. Making your government substantially more efficient. As Warren Buffet says, “only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Your fiscally responsible legislature is back in town, and it looks like the tide is shifting towards the people of Montana, leaving exposed, areas in need of improvement in state agencies. We will continue to work to make your state government more responsible to you, the Montana taxpayers.
Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls, and Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, serve on the House Appropriations Committee.