The continued growth of Montana’s government is out of control. If anything, we should be looking for responsible ways to trim bureaucracy and slow new hiring. Since 2008 we have seen huge technological advances, which should have led to more government efficiency. We have instead seen a steady growth in state government hiring.
Our state currently employs 12,000 people full time and another 1,000 or more part time. According to a recent report from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) there are only two industries in Montana that have grown since 2014: Health care and state government.
Continuing to grow government and patch holes with ever-increasing taxpayer funding is not the way to grow state economy. It is exactly the opposite. Over the last several budget sessions, Montanans have not seen the kind of strong leadership from the executive office that is necessary to help create a strong economy. It has been 13 years since we have permitted a new mine in the Treasure State. These projects bring in huge money to Montana families as well as local and state government.
The Governor is currently taking steps required by new state law that will address lower than expected revenues by making reductions to budget increases also voted on during the legislative session. These spending reductions were put in place through the “Budget Stabilization Plan” in order to avoid a special session and last minute scrambling when budget cuts are necessary.
Unfortunately, while the intent of this plan is to cut bureaucracy and non-essential services, the law left some room for the Governor to implement. Many of the current spending reductions do not match the legislative intent. The Governor is cutting services to the public while protecting the bureaucracy.
The Governor’s Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan was recently reported in the Billings Gazette as saying that Montana is in “difficult times” and that she has decided to make the majority of the Governor’s cuts required to her agency from the state Medicaid program. Instead of putting in the hard work to find areas where her agency can be more efficient, or not fill vacant positions, she is choosing to cut services to some of the most in need in our state.
In the long-term, we believe that reducing the size of government, not taking from essential services, is more beneficial to our state’s overall economic health. It is not fun work, it is hard work, and it is necessary. The Governor should have been making these hard decisions before the last legislative session, but failed to do so. However, there is no better time than the present to right previous missteps.
Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, is the majority leader of the Montana Senate. Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, is the majority leader of the Montana House of Representatives.