Today we’re going to take that same approach with Montana’s expenses, figuring out what we’re spending on compared to other states in the region. We’ll do this by looking at Montana’s 2013 Budget, which you can see on Ballotpedia.
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Looking closer to 2015, Media Trackers has a good post up today about the problem Montana has with federal money, and it’s worth a look, especially for the links it gives you to other useful information. And when I say useful information, I’m really getting at income and expenses for the 2015 budget…which we’re slowly edging our way towards here on Big Sky Words.
Montana has helped Uncle Sam a lot in the past. Whether it was giving the copper for the nation’s telegraph lines or giving the men for WWI in higher numbers than any other state per capita. We gave the nation old age pensions, primarily because we had the idea first. And we sure taught them a thing or two about agriculture when the country was going to dust. I think we still have something to teach them, and this time it’s about their shaky finances.
It’s the ability to weather a storm that Montanans know quite well, primarily because we have to do it six to eight months of the year, if not longer. Factor fires into it, and it might be a full-time gig.
That’s why when I look at Montana’s expenses, I know we can see a bit of the nation’s in them as well:
- General Fund;
- Federal Funds;
- Other Funds;
Like Colorado and Wyoming, we have no long-term debt liability from bonds at the state level that are eating into our budget. You might remember that we had a helluva problem with unpaid state employee pensions, but Bullock fixed that.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
- Institutional Care for Mentally Ill & Disabled;
- Public Health Programs;
- Employer Contributions to Pensions and Health Benefits;
- Economic Development;
- Environmental Projects;
- State Police;
- Parks and Recreation;
- Aid to Local Governments.
Wow, exactly the same “Other Funds” we’re seeing for our state’s income! This really needs to be looked into more, and since no one else in the media is doing it, I’ll put that on my list.
And what’s with that Federal Funds expenditure? Why are we giving money to the government each year and then taking it right back…so bankers can shuffle money around and take a few coins off every dollar?
Let’s take a look at it another way. Consider that Montana only has to bring in $2.078 billion itself each year, and that the state’s actual expenses are only $3.925 billion. That puts us just $1.877 billion in the hole each year, a lot better shape!
We know that federal money accounted for 38.46% of Montana’s revenue in 2012. That was $2.202 billion we got from the feds, and we in turn paid a lot of that money right back out as state expenses. And what do those expenses mean? It means road crews are working each summer, rural hospitals are funded, and the cracks in the floor that things normally fall through are sealed shut.
Still, we need a bit more than that, we need an idea of where every dollar is going. To do that we can break it down further, like so:
It’s going to take a few other posts to figure out what everything in that “Other” category is (and balance out those debits and credits), but we’ll get to that this week. By the end of the week we’ll have a handy Montana budget guidebook, something that will aid us in deciphering the 2015 budget. Remember, we’ll be doing all of this before the vast majority of the members in the legislature get around to it. That puts us ahead.
Until then, what can we learn?
- Education in Montana is being funded quite a bit, to the tune of 25.3% of the budget in 2012. That’s a lot, and a lot of people do just that – lump K-12 with Secondary Education. What’s more, people aren’t seeing a real value for that educational dollar. If the case has been made, please refer me to it. Oh, and that means backing it up with results. Far too often we’re not seeing the results we want in this state. And I’m sorry, but spending money to educate Oregon’s or Washington’s or California’s workers is not what I consider a good investment in Montana’s future.
- Medicaid in Montana is eating up 16.8% of our state’s budget, at least it was back in 2012. We know it’ll be eating up a lot more in coming years. So what can be done about this? I don’t know, it’s a tough one. If you go back to that Media Trackers story, it looks like Montana’s “total Medicaid costs are expected to rise to $1.669 billion by 2017, with $1.08 billion of that number coming from federal dollars.” This means Montana needs to come up with $589 million dollars extra each year, starting in just two years. How the hell is that going to happen? We’ll explore this issue this week and in the coming weeks here on Big Sky Words.
- Transportation took up 12.7% of our state budget in 2012, and the good news is that much of that money is just coming straight from the feds and going straight into our roads. Still, we are paying some, and could we nickel and dime this down a bit? Would we want to? Could that cost us more long-term? I’m not sure, but I’d like to take a look.
- Corrections is the only area of Montana’s budget that is quite low, with just 3.1% spent on something that actually is quite important. I’ve talked about Montana’s prison costs on this site before, and I urge you to read the article to see that we’re paying $35,000 a year for a prisoner. Since these people have very little value to us, it seems odd. I wish there were more answers here, but since it is such a limited budget item now, it will have to wait.
- Public Assistance makes up just 0.5% of Montana’s state budget, and I really don’t think we should make the lives of poor people any harder by reducing this. I’d actually like to see more money go into this, while at the same time we beef-up our enforcement efforts to prevent waste and abuse. This can be done! I’m so, so tired of government agencies not putting people into the field to crack down on this. I don’t like Republicans thinking there are only abusers, because there’s not. I’d rather not look into this, but since members of the GOP in Montana are so silly about this issue, I will.
I think that’s a pretty straightforward look at our finances in Montana. We’ll keep going, because I like talking about money. I hope you keep reading, and don’t be afraid to share with your high and mighty friends. Lord knows I have none!