By HDN Editorial Board
It's always a bad idea to make promises you can't keep.
It's an even worse idea to make promises you shouldn't keep.
George Herbert Bush found out about the first problem when he made the famous promise "No new taxes" during the 1988 presidential campaign. A short time later he found out that the federal government didn't have enough revenue and he had to break his promise.
Many Montana politicians, Gov. Judy Martz in particular, made the same promise during last year's campaign. While it might sound like a wonderful promise to the voters, and might pick up quite a few votes, drawing a line in the sand like that can cause problems once the politicians are elected.
Making a promise without knowing what the future holds can be dangerous. As the legislative session drew near and once it started, the anticipated budget surpluses got smaller and smaller the situation changed.
Legislators have said many times in the past few months that money is tight and finding enough for the budget is very difficult. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to raise new revenues to fund any existing programs or services or to make increases, such as for education.
Martz has said she will sign no new tax increases. She said she will not sign even any increase that doesn't affect Montana taxpayers, such as University of Montana President George Dennison's idea of a sales tax on purchases made by non-Montanans, or a rental car tax that would primarily affect visitors to the state.
We at The Havre Daily News support adequately funding programs without raising taxes if the money can be found. This will mean cutting other programs, however. The current proposals for education are still far short of what representatives for the education system say they need. If the Legislature doesn't want to force a major tuition increase in the Montana University System and additional closures and cuts in the K-12 public education system, more money needs to be found. Other programs will still have to be cut and more money moved around within the budget.
It's not just education that needs to be adequately funded. The Montana government will have to perform a delicate balancing act if they are going to provide the services Montanans expect, desire and deserve without raising new taxes.
Making a promise of no new taxes during a campaign is political posturing. Talking in absolutes about concrete issues rarely works in the real world. George Herbert Bush was realistic enough to realize that he probably shouldn't have made his promise and did raise taxes when he felt it was necessary. He probably didn't want to; Bush probably had every intention of keeping his promise. Once elected, he found that it was a hard promise to keep.
We applaud the Montana politicians who are trying to keep their promises to the voters. Keeping your word is the honorable thing to do. Maybe the line they drew in the sand, an absolute promise of "no new taxes" is putting them into the second position having made a promise they shouldn't keep.