Governor Brian Schweitzer is pointing to the latest state budget figures showing the second-highest budget surplus in Montana history.
The state ended this past fiscal year last month with $453 million in the bank. Schweitzer used the figure to blast Republican majorities in the state legislature for passing a budget based on predictions of a large deficit—predictions the Governor calls outright lies.
Republicans are not apologizing.
Governor Schweitzer called a Tuesday morning press conference with reporters the start of his “I told you so Tour.”
Schweitzer is finishing his final term at the end of this year and says the results are in when it comes to his fiscal management style. He says he has presided over the largest budget surpluses in Montana history, including this last year. Over $450 million in the black. Schweitzer then used the press conference to repeatedly call Republican lawmakers liars and thieves.
It comes down to the financial predictions Republicans were using to set the state budget last legislative session. These figures came from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Division, predicting a possible $400 million shortfall for last fiscal year. Instead, Schweitzer again points out the budget came out $453 million ahead, which is close to what his budget office had been predicting the whole time.
“So that’s $853 million in a $1.8 billion budget. that’s not even close. that’s off by 40 percent,” Schweitzer said.
The Fiscal Division is normally off by about 6 percent. Schweitzer says that proves that Republican Legislators are unduly influencing that nonpartisan office.
“See, you can’t possibly guess 40 percent wrong unless somebody has their finger on the scale,” Schweitzer said. “When you look at exactly the same numbers, the Governor’s budget Office and the Legislative Fiscal Division. They come up with crazy numbers and we come up with numbers that were accurate. Tell yourself, what’s going on?”
“The Governor certainly is correct that he was right that we had stronger growth that anyone had anticipated,” said Helena Republican Senator Dave Lewis, a proponent of those deficit predictions. Lewis says the Fiscal Division is not being inappropriately swayed by Republicans.
“They’ve worked with Republican majorities and Democratic majorities over the years and that’s I think an insult on behalf of the Governor to say that about the professional staff of that office,” Lewis said.
Hey says they have been putting these predictions together for 40 years and have found conservative budget predictions to be safer. Staff at the Legislative Fiscal Division declined comment for this story. But Butte Democratic Representative and Legislative Finance Committee Chair Jon Sesso also defends the Fiscal Division, saying that office should be held harmless in this situation.
“They gave us scenarios,” Sesso said. “They gave us the optimistic picture, the middle of the road and the worst case scenario and it was the republican leadership that concentrated on the worst case scenario and that’s why we have the wide disparity.”
State Republicans say the Governor is not being civil in his attacks regarding the budget. They say their budget helped make sure finances were sound. Again, Senator Dave Lewis.
“We’ve always been trained to be cautious in Montana because we have a volatile revenue situation here because we’re a resource based economy and so we generally tend to be cautious and I certainly don’t apologize for that,” Lewis said.