HELENA — The Schweitzer administration is asking state agencies to identify 4 percent cuts in personnel budgets next year, warning that the state’s next two-year budget is likely to be lower than current spending.
Schweitzer’s budget director, David Ewer, told agencies last week to submit the proposed cuts as part of the planning process for the 2012-13 state budget, with identified “permanent” cuts in the number of employees.When asked Tuesday if personnel spending cuts could mean state layoffs next year, Ewer said it’s too early to tell.
“I don’t know how (the cuts) would be accommodated,” he said. “I need to see the responses from directors. …
“This is only a starting point. … We don’t have to submit our budget until November. We’re showing fiscal discipline today; it’s always easier to add later than to cut later.”
However, Ewer said the administration expects the two-year proposed budget it will submit to the 2011 Legislature will have less spending than the current budget period.
The request for the proposed 4 percent cut came in a 12-page memo that Ewer sent last week to all state agencies, as part of the budget-planning process.
He also said when agency directors build their proposed budget for the next two years, they should incorporate a 2 percent, across-the-board cut directed by the 2009 Legislature and 5 percent spending cuts ordered by Gov. Brian Schweitzer this month.
Ewer’s memo said lagging tax revenue because of the recession means an unusually tight budget next year, with no proposed increases in general-fund programs and “limited” chances for increases in programs funded by other sources.
The 4 percent personnel reduction is restricted to the “general fund” budget, totaling $13.4 million over the next two years. Agencies financed by nongeneral fund revenue, such as the departments of Transportation and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, are largely exempt from proposing any personnel reductions.
Transportation is funded mostly by fuel taxes, while Fish, Wildlife and Parks is funded mostly by fishing and hunting licenses and similar revenues.
The state general fund, which has seen a big drop-off in revenue, is financed by general taxes on income, property and natural resources.
The agencies facing the biggest personnel-cut proposals are Public Health and Human Services, at $3.7 million; Corrections, at $2.8 million; and Revenue, at $1.4 million.
Eric Feaver, president MEA-MFT, the state’s largest public sector union, said Tuesday the administration’s call for proposed personnel cuts is “very discouraging news.”
“The people who work for the state of Montana are going to be sorely stressed by the information that says … not only is there going to be a freeze in pay, but perhaps layoffs, too,” he said.
Feaver said the administration and the Legislature need to consider raising state revenues next year, in some fashion, to blunt some of the possible cuts in government services.
“The vast majority of (state) legislatures that have met this year have increased taxes,” he said. “They’ve done it in many ways. They’ve done something to increase their revenue stream because they’ve had to. … Maybe we ought to be talking about revenue enhancements to pay for the goods and services that we know people in this state need.”
Schweitzer, a Democrat, has made it clear he won’t support any tax increases — which Ewer emphasized again Tuesday.
“The governor has said that we’re going to live within our means, and the Schweitzer administration is not going to support increasing taxes,” Ewer said.