State budget cuts could be getting far more severe following an order Tuesday from the governor that agencies prepare contingency plans for 5 percent spending reductions, a move that surprised legislative leaders who were not told of the plans. Gov. Brian Schweitzer made the announcement following a string of reports showing the state budget picture is getting worse, not better. A report due out today is expected to make an even gloomier forecast. Schweitzer said state law gives him the authority to cut spending if projected reserves dip below $37 million, or 1 percent of all spending for the two-year budget period that runs through the middle of 2011. Normally, all spending authority rests with the Legislature. That trigger has not yet been reached. The most recent legislative analysis reported the projected surplus of nearly $300 million could be only $44 million by June 2011. Legislative Fiscal Division analyst Terry Johnson said it's a "100 percent" certainty that the projected surplus in his reports will drop far enough to trigger the governor's budget-cutting at some point during the budget period. But the governor's office makes its own calculation, separate from Johnson's. The governor's office has not released its estimation. House Speaker Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said the governor should do a better job of keeping legislative leaders and committees apprised of budget development. The lawmakers, who do not meet again for a regular session until next January, should have some informal input into the decisions, he argued. Bergren said he learned of the governor's contingency plans through a news release late Tuesday. "He should consult with somebody," Bergren said. "The Legislature spends the money by the authority of the Constitution, so I would like to think the governor would honor that by consulting with folks rather than by hitting us with a press release." Bergren said he believes the deteriorating budget picture will put the forecast surplus below the legal trigger allowing the governor to make cuts. The governor's announcement didn't specify when the contingency plans would be due.
Governor asks agencies to plan for cuts
Published: Wednesday, January 6th, 2010
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