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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is commended for calling state lawmakers to Helena this week to deal with an anticipated $227 million budget shortfall. And the plan he has laid out is a reasonable starting point.

Now it will be up to Bullock and legislators to hammer out a deal.

The budget crisis stems from a historically expensive wildfire season coupled with lower than expected revenue — much of which stems from declines in energy production. Bullock’s budget director identified cuts that would balance the budget, but those would fall mainly on programs that help the elderly and children with special needs and on education as a whole, including some $44 million that would be cut from the University System, which would push tuition rates much higher.

Under Bullock’s plan, taxes on hotels and car rentals would be increased and payments would be temporarily suspended to state health insurance and retirement plans that are running surpluses right now. Even with those changes, some $76 million would still need to be cut from the budget.

Bullock said he and Republican legislative leaders, who control both the House and the Senate, are close to striking a deal. But the lawmakers have said publicly they don’t think the governor has done enough to identify manageable budget cuts. And they have been resistant to the idea of a special session.

Let’s be realistic: Last spring, when the Legislature was in session, no one could have anticipated how bad the fire season would get. But firefighting costs only account for about $70 million of the deficit. The other $150 million-plus stems from bad numbers and assumptions and overly rosy optimism. There’s plenty of blame to go around for that, but a big chunk of it belongs to the legislators themselves.

It’s time to be accountable.

There will be some give and take over the coming week of the special session. But there’s no reason Republicans and the Democratic governor can’t reach a compromise that will keep budget cuts below $100 million. That’s not great, but it’s a whole lot better than $227 million coming out of programs for education and the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Let’s can the politics, call the session to order and put first Montana and its citizens.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.