Budget cutting suggestions coming in
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Montanans have offered more than 700 suggestions for making cuts to the state budget, from cutting or eliminating the state motor pool to consolidating school districts and counties. The suggestions received so far under the Montana Accountability Partnership have been posted on online at http://www.governor. mt.gov, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday. The contest, which runs through April 1, is seeking the best ideas for saving the state money in the face of decreasing revenues. The winner will receive a oneounce palladium coin valued at $400 donated by Stillwater Mine. "I encourage people to continue to submit their cost-saving ideas before the deadline," Schweitzer said. "Your ideas can be a part of making state government more efficient." Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said this morning that something needs to be done. She said she does not believe that 5-percent cuts in state agencies, one avenue Schweitzer is pursuing, will not be enough. Warburton said something should have been done to reduce spending during the last legislative session. "I think the Republican side of the aisle saw this coming when the economy was going down so quickly," she said. "We were kind of pushing for a smaller budget from the beginning, and now it looks like that's becoming necessary." State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said he supports the goverNor looking for ideas from the people who elected him. "My hat's off to him. That's the way government should work, not Big Brother telling us what will happen," Windy Boy said. Windy Boy said that if the situation worsens and the state revenue projections worsen for this year, he supports holding a special legislative session to balance the budget. Windy Boy added that he doubts that would be necessary. He commended the governor for sending a message to the people that ideas are welcome — much better than the confrontational messages often sent by pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle. "We're all in this together," Windy Boy said. The more popular suggestions coming in to the Accountability Partnership site include reducing or eliminating the state motor pool, not allowing state employees to drive stateowned vehicles home, eliminating the need for a front license plate and not replacing the basic state license plate as often. Several people suggested consolidating school districts to spend less on administration and to move to four-day school weeks. "Little towns are very protective of their school and sports teams, but it's high time we addressed this issue," one person wrote. "We have towns playing six man football, which is somewhat of a MT tradition, but if you only have enough kids in a high school for half a football team, that's a really good sign that bussing the students 20 miles would be much more beneficial for their education." Some questioned why state employees got a paid day off to vote. "The majority population of Montana finds the time in the day to go vote so I do not see why our state and federal employees cannot do the same," one person wrote. Another suggested that state employees take an unpaid furlough on two of their vacation days. Others suggested that state employees work a four-day week when possible. At least one person suggested cuts in the layers of management. Other ideas included making better use of the state mail service, not mailing two- or three-page documents in large manilla envelopes and sending pay information and other correspondence by e-mail, if possible. Some suggested money could be saved in public assistance payments by making sure people aren't cheating the system and requiring recipients to pass drug screenings. Another suggested going after people who owe back taxes — a nephew in particular. "I feel you should aggresively (sic) persue the ten million dollars plus of past due state income tax owed by DEADBEAT tax evaders as listed on the mt.Gov web site," the person wrote. "You can start with my DEADBEAT nephew, (redacted). He has the money to pay the $(redacted) he owes." Other ideas included eliminating the governor's security detail and having Jag handle it, using fewer land lines and making phone calls over the Internet while some suggested raising money by attracting more business or implementing a flat tax. Some were just pithy. "Substantial savings could be had by using global warming to heat all government offices," one person wrote. And another offered that if they had the winning suggestion, they would not even collect the reward. "If my idea has any merit of being considered, please also keep any award or coin for the general fund as every little bit counts in these tough times," the person wrote.