HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday that the latest revenue figures show his budget projections were right all along and that Republican lawmakers deflated the figure to justify steeper cuts.
A Republican leader countered that the GOP didn't want to spend more even if it had believed more money would be coming in.
Last week, legislative fiscal analysts reported state tax collections for the year are about $70 million higher than predicted.
All through the legislative session that ended in April, Schweitzer sparred with GOP leaders and legislative staffers over a revenue prediction he argued would come in higher than they were projecting — as it did. Schweitzer said revenue collected through tax season shows his rosier prediction for Montana was right all along.
He accused the GOP of using an artificially low figure in order to push an ideological desire to cut services.
"When you say something you know to be false that's deceit. And when that deceit creates financial hardship, that is fraud," Schweitzer said. "The money was there all along, and we said so all along."
Schweitzer said cuts from the Republican-led Legislature will mean increased college tuition and higher local property taxes to cover less state support for schools.
Helena Republican state Sen. Dave Lewis said Republicans had no appetite to spend more money even had they adopted the higher revenue projection sought by Schweitzer all along. He said Republicans did not know revenue would come in higher, as it did.
"The bottom line is that the governor wanted to spend more money. I am not so sure that even if we had known the money was there the majority party would be in favor of increased spending," Lewis said.
Schweitzer brought up the 2012 elections, making it clear part of his reason for drawing the distinction is to make it clear voters have a say in choosing sides.
"We are going to have an opportunity to review the leadership of these Republicans with their fraud and deceit," the governor said.
The governor said he would not be calling a special session in order to ask lawmakers to appropriate the increased funding. Instead, Schweitzer said he would be looking for ways in his administration to use the extra money in ways he is allowed and that make sense.
The governor said he was "100 percent" certain that Montana, with $366 million now in the bank, would not run into a deficit situation over the two year budget period that starts July 1.
"If an asteroid hits earth, then all bets are off," Schweitzer said.