The Legislative Fiscal Division, headed by Amy Carlson, took a tour around the state recently to update the Legislators on the financial condition of the state.
By Sen. Matt Rosendale
Majority Leader Montana State Senate
She was well prepared and her staff accompanied her to assist with the presentation. They summarized the impacts that legislation passed during the last session were estimated to cause, and brought real time numbers reflecting the current state finances.
The long and short of the state’s finances are this: We are spending about $5 billion a year, we receive nearly half of that from the federal government, and we will have an estimated $455 million leftover in ending fund balance at the end of the fiscal year.
We can discusss individual accounts like the Fire Suppression Fund which is extremely well funded and should be able to sustain a difficult fire season. Or the Board of Public Education which is providing funding for 200 children across the state, under the age of five, in a manner that looks like pre-k, and would be in violation of statute. Then there is the Transportation Fund which is heavily reliant on federal dollars for building and maintaining our roads and is declining in balance. Finally, the Medicaid expansion that the governor pushed through which will expand Obamacare in our state and obligate the taxpayers for a minimal of $25 million a year. Let us not forget that the governor wouldn’t fund vital infrastructure projects in eastern Montana, but raised millions of dollars in additional property taxes. Apparently $455 million in the bank isn’t quite enough. The governor still insists on borrowing funds for vital infrastructure instead of using the available funds.
The Sage Grouse Oversight Committee held another meeting and I traveled to Helena to participate. We are starting to dig into the implementation of the program, therefore, the details are being discussed and approved. There will be a group of public hearings taking place across the state in early to mid-January of 2016 to approve rules for the program. I feel comfortable with these rules as the bill which set up the committee and program, Senate Bill 261, outlined specific tasks and acceptable practices that could be funded by the appropriation. So the rules basically point to that legislation for implementation instead of providing an interpretation of the legislation.
I spend a fair amount of time making sure the committee would not prohibit adequate funds being used for a multi-year study which considers the effects of predation on the sage grouse populations. Additionally, I had the committee clarify that funds could be used to manage predator problems. To ignore the effects of predators on the sage grouse populations would be equivalent to ignoring the weather conditions. We do not have solid data on these issues, therefore, the federal government has refused to consider their impacts.
The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services spoke during the meeting. They have established guidelines for use of Federal lands which are much more restrictive than the state of Montana has established for state or private land. The bad news is they will not be reviewing those guidelines any time soon and I expect rules for use of BLM lands to be in place for a minimum of five years regardless of sage grouse numbers.
Anyone wishing to attend a meeting, receive newsletters or comment on any of the sage grouse committee activities may go online to:
dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/cardd/sage-grouse. You will find all the information there.
I will continue to research and expose spending that seems to be in violation of statute, oppose that which is wasteful or in violation of the constitution, and support that which maintains basic government services.
As always you can reach me at 406-687-3549 or: firstname.lastname@example.org