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MSU-Billings College of Technology Dean John Cech will step into the vacant position of Deputy Commissioner for Two-Year and Community College Education in January, subject to final approval by the Board of Regents. Cech will succeed former Deputy Commissioner Mary Moe, who retired from the position.
The deputy commissioner is responsible for coordinating statewide educational programs at the two-year and community college level, administering federally-funded career and technical education programs.
Montana needs to look at its budgeting process in a whole new way if it is going to survive the fiscal challenges facing states, a University of Colorado economics professor ermeritus told nearly 140 state lawmakers and residents Tuesday at a forum on legislative issues in Helena.
Barry W. Poulson said Montana will be facing unfunded pensions and unfunded retirements in its next session and that the old way of budgeting was no longer effective.
"The first thing you need to do is change the way you budget," Poulson said. "You need to change to priority budgeting."
Poulson was one of several speakers at the daylong forum at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel sponsored by the Montana Policy Institute, which founded Montana Watchdog.
Poulson also serves as a senior fellow with MPI. Other speakers included Randal O'Toole with the Cato Institute, Jonathan Williams with American Legislative Exchange Council and Mike Tanner of Cato. The event was to discuss topics that state lawmakers will likely face in 2011, such as budgeting challenges, raising pension and health care costs and limiting the growth of government. All members of the Montana legislature were invited to attend the Legislative Forum, 15 senators and 39 representatives attended.
Carl Graham, MPI president, called for a return to sustainable government in which the state does not spend more than it collects.
"We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem," Graham said.
He told the audience the forum goal was to provide them with the tools to make sound fiscal decisions regarding government, whether they are lawmakers or just curious residents.
"We're providing the stadium, we're providing the bat, we're providing the balls," he said. "You have to swing the bat."
Graham unveiled three reports at the event; a "Pork Report" which looked at government spending and waste; "Budgeting for Results," a fiscal roadmap for Montana; and "State Spending Growth and Future Deficits." The morning session was open to the public, the afternoon was for elected officials only.
"I'm really enjoying it," said Sarah Boyer of Helena, who came to the forum as a private citizen. "So many of the issues have concerned me for a long time. As a citizen I want to be more involved."
Poulson told the crowd he arrived in Helena on Montana and watched the state Legislature's finance committee on TV.
"It was a depressing program," he said. "When you let bureaucrats set the budgets you're in trouble."
He urged Montana to switch to priority budgeting, in which the functions of government would be outlined, and then complete a budget review process around the functions, and then how to determine the core functions.
Poulson said doing this analysis usually ends duplication and consolidates programs.
He said the state of Washington saved $3.8 billion by switching to this process.
Poulson encouraged Montana to find programs it could privatize.
O'Toole talked about property rights and said states with growth management laws had higher home prices. He urged people to continue to fight for property rights. Tanner outlined the health care crisis and predicted that system is so unpredictable that it would collapse under its own weight. He said the health care package commonly referred to as Obamacare would not be passed in the next congressional session, but would most likely be a campaign issue in 2012. Williams joined in the chorus of other speakers who said pension and healthcare issues for public employees are "ticking time bombs."
"There are two mistakes that states make," he said. "One; people do not work for the privilege of paying taxes and two; government cannot create wealth, it must be done in the private sector."
Billings should be the 800 pound gorilla in the room at the state legislature, said Bruce McIntyre, Legislative Affairs Director for the Billings-area Chamber of Commerce, as he presented proposed policy positions on a wide variety of issues. The community often is not because it lacks a united front, he said.
At a meeting of the Executive Committees of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC), members acted to recommend the approval of the policy positions to the full boards, which will meet later this month.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Monday unveiled a $3.3 billion General Fund budget that he said would leave an ending fund balance of $125 million, would not raise taxes, would provide more money to schools, cut $36 million in property taxes and greatly shrink the business equipment tax.
“We’re doing more with less,” the governor said, adding that as of Monday, Montana had $333 million in cash reserves and have an ending fund balance of $125 million in Fiscal Year 2013.
At a Legislative Forum on Tuesday the Montana Policy Institute released the state's first "Pork Report," a book that outlines wasteful state government spending and proposes budget savings.
The book, "Montana Pork Report: Wasted treasure in the Treasure State" is a joint product of MPI and Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, and mismanagement.
"The Montana Pork Report just scratches the surface on the amount of taxpayer dollars wasted by Montana's state and local governments," CAGW Vice President for Policy David Williams said in a release. "... When the government is the largest employer in the state, and state agencies are spending $18 million on travel, Montana taxpayers deserve a smarter, more accountable government."
A father and daughter concerned with runaway government spending started a group called Montana Shrugged in 2009. It organizes, educates, and activates people to promote the understanding and execution of the United States Constitution. Such activities, however, are heavily regulated in Montana and are banned if done by corporations.
Montana law bans any corporation from spending money to influence an election. The Supreme Court unequivocally declared in its recent Citizens United decision that states have no legitimate interest in such prohibitions. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, a defendant in this case, said “corporations aren’t censored here.” We agree, they cannot speak at all.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103