Posted: Aug 1, 2012 9:26 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Montana's financial position is back in the headlines this week as Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer closed the books on the 2012 fiscal year.
He says the state is beginning this next year with more than $450 million in the bank, and it's a balance he's proud of.
"Hallelujah! We're rich!" Schweitzer said.
"During seven years, this administration got the gold medal, the silver medal, the bronze medal, the copper medal. We're all the way down to the nickel medal," Schweitzer says. "The top seven budget surpluses in the history of Montana have all been under this administration."
Schweitzer criticized Republican lawmakers for painting a bleak budget picture. He says they inaccurately predicted the state's finances. And if it weren't for his vetoes, he says, the State would be in bad fiscal shape.
Republican Speaker of the House Mike Milburn, of Cascade, disagreed, saying the legislature is responsible for the budget, not the governor.
"So it's the legislature's budget every year," Milburn said. "The governor provides a recommendation to us, but then it becomes ours. He really never did provide us one that was structurally sound or reasonable."
Republican Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Dave Lewis, of Helena, says taxpayers can't forget the state's pension system has a $3 billion shortfall and a looming increase of 84,000 Montanans to the state's Medicaid rolls, both of which he says will cost the state extensively.
"Income tax collections have gone up dramatically. Myself and the other Republicans did not believe that was going to happen," Lewis says. "I'm glad we have it but the biggest question is what to do with it."
Lewis says he would like to see the money returned to taxpayers instead of sitting in the state's bank account.