Martz dismisses Baucus' advice on federal windfall
HELENA - Thanks, but no thanks, Gov. Judy Martz said Tuesday in response to advice from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., that the state spend $73 million in federal aid coming its way.
Martz, who wants the money saved and not spent, said, ''Max should probably take care of what's at the federal-government level and let us take care of what we know, on a day-to-day basis, what's right for the state of Montana.''
She branded his remarks ''at best, a sound byte for the news media.''
In a letter to the Republican governor and legislative leaders, Baucus urged them to immediately spend the money to offset some budget cuts made by the 2003 Legislature in erasing a $230 million deficit.
He said spending the money would help Montana's economy.
While insisting he was not trying to tell Martz and lawmakers how to do their jobs, Baucus said the money was ''meant to make Montana whole again, not to be used for a rainy-day fund or future budget deficits.''
''The intent of Congress was for these funds to be used right away, when states like Montana need it most,'' wrote Baucus, saying he was instrumental in getting the state aid included in the federal tax relief package.
The money is part of a $350 billion economic stimulus package signed into law two weeks ago. About $20 billion is dedicated to help states that are facing large deficits due to plummeting revenue.
The Legislature's chief attorney has concluded the federal requirements attached to the money require states to spend it on essential government services or to pay for unfunded federal mandates.
That conclusion probably would require a special legislative session to decide how to use the money.
But Martz said her administration is still studying the matter and is not yet convinced spending is mandated.
''We want to hang on to the money,'' she said. ''If we can hang on to it and use it if needed, that's the best use of the money for the people we serve.''
Martz suggested her desire not to spend the windfall should find support among many Democratic lawmakers critical of spending one-time money such as this during the legislative session.