Montana’s Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer offers up this New York Tims op-ed in the hope that elected officials in Washington might follow the state’s lead in pinching pennies, or, in the case of the nation’s capital, pinching billions.
Cutting Costs the Montana Way
WITH the debt crisis and the weakening economy fresh on their minds, most Americans have probably concluded that government, as a rule, cannot manage money responsibly. But it can. Just look at Montana.
For six years it has been one of the only states in America with a budget surplus: this year it is a record $433 million, proportionally equivalent to a federal surplus of $858 billion. Thus we’ve been able to cut taxes, invest in education and infrastructure and keep essential services intact. We recently got our first bond rating upgrade in 26 years.
And we’re not simply riding the Western energy boom. The recession has driven unemployment to 7.5 percent, and while we’ve had a great run with oil, coal and gas, royalties from these commodities account for only 9 percent of our budget surplus.
How do we accomplish what the federal government cannot? I like to say we run government like a ranch. In ranching – my old job – you either pinch pennies or go belly-up. We do the same in government. Perhaps Washington can try it.
For one thing, we challenge every expense. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, we eliminate it. When the recession came we found $80 million in savings, which helped us avert a budget crisis. Little things added up: we renegotiated state contracts, cut our energy consumption by 20 percent, auctioned off state vehicles and canceled building projects and computer upgrades.
I don’t know how other state legislatures work, but, I was quite surprised to learn that, here in Montana, these elected officials meet for only 90 days every two years – in the most recent case, from January to March this year after the 2010 elections.