Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said that while the state may still need to tighten its belt, the budget situation for the next two years is promising.
“Montana is in a pretty good situation,” he said. “You know, there are 48 states that are running deficits. … Montana is in a different situation altogether.”
While revenues are declining, Schweitzer said, Montana still is in a good position to fund its budget. With a budget of about $1.8 billion, Montana has more than $371 million in the bank.
The reason for that, he said, is that when the times were good, the state increased its reserves instead of spending all that came in.
While most states have no way to come up with money to pay for their services — Schweitzer said that if they were businesses most judges would force those states into Chapter 7 bankruptcy — Montana still has a reserve, he said.
Schweitzer also said the people talking about a budget deficit are wrong. There is no $400 million deficit, there is a projected revenue decline of $400 million. He said he will present a budget in November, that looks at revenue and expense projections, that will be balanced.
Things will be a little tight — will require tightening the belt, the same as businesses in Havre like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway or the Palace Bar would have to tighten their belts in the same situation — but he predicted the budget for the next biennium to be close to his last budget.
Schweitzer said he expects the budget for the first of the next two years to be a little less than $1.8 billion, with the budget for the next year a little more than $1.8 billion.
“It’s about the same money,” he said.
Part of balancing that budget, he said, includes his administration working to decrease expenses, ranging from not filling employee positions as workers retire to cutting the number of vehicles in the state fleet and reducing expenses on employee cell phones.
“We are cutting the cost of state government,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for the last five-and-a-half years, and we’re in pretty good shape because of it.”
He said that in the last 10 years the gross domestic product of Montana has grown by nearly 100 percent — from $21 billion in 2001 to $37 billion in 2010 — but the number of state employees has grown by 1.8 percent once the number of military affairs employees and the state’s taking over employment of public defenders from county governments is factored out.
When those employees are left in the computation, the number has grown by 3.8 percent, he said.
“We’ve found a way of doing nearly twice as much with the same workforce. I think that’s a pretty good record,” Schweitzer said.
The state of the economy also is not looking bad — the recession hardly hit eastern Montana, instead focusing on the larger communities in western and south-central Montana that had been booming before the recession hit, he said.
With commodities looking good — a banner crop probably coming in for Montana farmers, copper prices high, oil prices stable — things should look good on Main Street in Montana, Schweitzer said.