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." Speaker of the House Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said this morning he had not yet seen the memo and that he planned to review it today. Bergren said the state government already has been looking at finding savings by eliminating positions through attrition. He said he supports that action. “I support reductions where we have to, as long as it’s not through termination (of employees),” he said. “We’ll all have to tighten our belts a little bit,” Bergren added. He said he believes the 2009 Legislature, in working with a nearly $10 billion budget, did fairly well in setting spending, which has to be set against revenue estimates going out some two-anda- half years. “I think we came pretty close,” Bergren said. Ewer's 12-page memo also told directors to include a 2 percent acrossthe- 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. Bergren said he believes Schweitzer has generally done well in his obligation to offset the projected declining revenue, including involving the Legislature “where he can and where he should.” “There’s a certain amount of the process the governor has to do and will do,” Bergren said. 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.
Governor sees need to cut state personnel
Bergren backs cuts through attrition
Published: Thursday, April 15th, 2010
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