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Projected Montana budget surplus in danger


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MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA

The Montana budget situation is getting worse, not better, according to a report released Thursday that says the projected budget surplus is just about gone. Legislative Fiscal Analyst Terry Johnson said in his analysis that revenue collections for the last five months, through November, are 24 percent below the same period last year. He said that trend, combined with current economic forecasts, showed the projected surplus of nearly $300 million could only be $44 million by June 2011. Montana is one of a few states so far spared from the budget mayhem that has forced dramatic cuts elsewhere. "As discussed in previous general fund reports, the revenue collection trends have progressively worsened each month," Johnson wrote in his report. The governor's office has started making small cuts, including the elimination of four Commerce Department positions last month. It said at the time that more cuts would be coming. Lawmakers didn't seem surprised by the report. Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter, said he expects more "belttightening" would be needed to help deal with falling revenues. But Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, a Helena Democrat who sits on the Financ e Commi t t e e, remained somewhat optimistic. "I think we are all concerned about the darkening budget picture," said Hollenbaugh. "But I think we are still fairly fiscally sound overall."


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