The grain bin has been raided.
The previous governor was fond of saying how good a job Montana did budgeting its money and always making sure we had grain in the bin. What the 63rd legislature has discovered is that upon opening the bin there is some missing grain. It has taken a few weeks for all the data to be brought up to a firm date in February. No estimates, just hard numbers. This is the figure of all the appropriated spending plus any unplanned emergency type spending, which is called supplemental, and is made up of items like floods, extended fire seasons, and so on.
So, at the start of each session, the books are balanced from last session, the supplemental spending is paid and the planning begins for the next two years. This year when the door to the grain bin was opened, this would be the ending fund balance, there wasn’t as much grain left. A huge amount, as it turns out, had been spent, without being appropriated, and now the legislature was handed a bill for $126 million. This compares to $3.6 million in 2011, and $3.7 million is 2009. About half turns out to be legitimate unplanned expenses, like $50 million to the fire fighting fund to make up for the last two extreme fire years. The other half comes under categories that should have been in appropriations. Grain we didn’t know was missing until a few weeks ago. You can see the figures by looking online at HB 3 which is always the supplemental spending bill.
What to do? Deduct it from the current executive branch budget? Probably a tempting idea, but not a practical one as the new governor had nothing to do with the extra spending. On the House floor, two days ago, the chairman of Appropriations, Rep. Duane Ankney, and the minority leader on Appropriations, Rep. Gallen Hollenbaugh, both gave speeches explaining and very humbly apologizing for the undeclared position we are in because of the actions that should never have happened in the first place. Oh, what was done is not illegal. Unethical, and a bit immoral, yes. And never has this been done before. It was a quiet and reflective House chamber that day. The executive office allowed excess spending above budgeted amounts of at least $60 million. Estimating $18 million went into pay increases, which appears to be for less than half of the state employees, of which little or none went to the lowest pay grades. $39 million seems to be spread around a few agencies, including the Department of Education.
We are fortunate. Going forward we have the revenue to cover the extra supplemental spending. Where it will hurt a little is that it means less spending this time as we make up for the sins of the previous executive branch. Prevention going forward? My feeling is the new governor’s pledge and implementation of having all of the state’s budget and spending records on line for all of us to see will be a big step towards a good level of transparency.
This coming week, in the House, we will be discussing and voting on HB-2 which is the major budget bill. All the sections are complete. Much discussion to add or take away from what is proposed will take place now. I hear we are slightly below what the governor has proposed. Looking forward to an exciting week.
Ed Greef, HD 90