The Office of Public Instruction said Tuesday that budget cuts being considered at the request of Gov. Brian Schwei tzer could lead to higher local property taxes, just as the governor cautioned that all such ideas are preliminary. Th e p o t e n t i a l impact of the 5 percent budget cut plans across state government, put together at Schweitzer's request, began to crystalize Tuesday as the governor freed his agencies to discuss their proposals. Other agencies not under his control were already discussing the plans with reporters. The of f ice of School Superintendent Denise Juneau warned that one plan to cut $2 million from local school district block grants will likely lead to higher local property taxes. The agency said that the portion of its $4.5 million cut goes into a school district general fund that schools are legally required to replace with local money. The local property taxes would automatically go up, except in counties with a surplus of oil and gas tax money, said Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff at the office of public instruction. Schweitzer said that a way around any tax increase must be found. "Two million dollars out of hundreds of millions of dollars doesn't mean more taxes, " Schweitzer said in an interview. "It means someone is going to have to find a way to cut the cost of delivery of government." Attorney General Steve Bullock proposed axing $200,000 of the money lawmakers made available for the Montana Meth Project as part of $1.3 million of proposed Justice Department cutbacks. Schweitzer said that the proposals are first being evaluated by his budget director before he makes a final decision on less than $50 million in cuts. The governor said he has not even begun analyzing them before he gets a revised proposal from David Ewer. "Then and only then will a decision be made," Schweitzer said. The governor told reporters Tuesday they could talk to his agency leaders directly about their proposals, a day after all such requests had been rejected. Ewer said he will give his version to the governor on Feb. 19. It will then be analyzed by legislative staffers, before lawmakers of fer comments of their own in March. "We will listen careful ly to the Legislature," Ewer told agency heads at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. "I am sure there are some (cuts) that will be controversial." Agency directors made available to reporters on Tuesday said all of their proposed cuts were done with the aim of not reducing services — a lofty goal that might be hard to reach. Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Anna Whiting Sorrell proposed a $19 million cut in state spending — an amount that will trigger the loss of some federal matching money. She said the large number of jobs left unfilled will require other workers to double their efforts. "It's not possible to not impact the reduction of services," Whiting Sorrell said. The Corrections Department, another of the biggest users of state general tax money, is proposing to save money by deferring maintenance, canceling plans for a new 40-bed prerelease center and reducing payments to a meth treatment center. Agency Director Mike Ferriter, responding to reports that the meth treatment center might have to be closed with a 20 percent cut, said there is plenty of time in the process to wo rk through the kinks. The director said that reducing the number of inmates at the prison is not a good option, although the idea always comes up when budget cuts are discussed. "We don't have people in secure facilities that aren't supposed to be there," he said. State Sen. Bob Story, R-Park City, said lawmakers are just beginning to learn of the proposals. He said none are yet seriously talking about calling themselves back into special session to take control of the budget cuts from the governor.
Schools fear cuts could mean higher taxes
Published: Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010
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