‘Bullock cuts budget and lays off Troopers.’ ‘Fox cries foul.’ The average Montana citizen has no idea what is really going on here and probably won’t unless they happen to know a guy who knows a guy who heard from a guy that to undo all of this there will need to be an increase in the gas tax.
Bullock’s 10% cut to MHP represents what has become a loss of oil and gas revenue that few pay any attention to, unless you manage the budget of the State of Montana or get to come to Helena for 90 days every other year and learn what that revenue means to certain agencies in state government. The Department of Transportation will experience the same agency reduction as MHP unless gas taxes are increased. Of course the highway worker changing road signs isn’t quite as popular as the Trooper rolling along in a Dodge Charger.
Loss of gas and oil revenues. That seems like a legitimate explanation, but why the yellow flag from Fox? Something as simple as a phone call could have solved the surprise factor: ‘Hey Tim, it’s Steve. We’re going to be pretty short on cash down the road here so we’ll have to make some tough decisions on your budget proposal.’ Seven digits on a phone. Didn’t happen. No wonder Fox feels burned. Or is there something more here?
Of course there is and it’s pretty simple. Bullock doesn’t want to be the Governor who raises taxes. Fox doesn’t want to be the future candidate for Governor who pushed for an increase in taxes. So re-elected Bullock buries deep cuts in his budget for both MHP and Transportation. Re-elected Fox finds those cuts and plays the ‘we’ll lose Troopers’ card. So far it’s a reasonable game of political chess between the two. It’s not so reasonable to those pawns on the board that represent Bullock’s former employees from his time as AG and Fox’s current employees who would like to feel the sense of security that they’ll still be able to make the house payment and put food on the table.
The posturing hardly seems like Bullock’s style given his past four years where he could often be heard introducing himself with ‘And I’m a public employee.’ or the 2013 mantra ‘Let’s govern and take care of the people of Montana.’ Actually, this seems a bit more like a past Governor whose footprint still exists on the second floor in the budget director’s office.
As for Fox, he seems to be leaving out a few key details on his end. For instance, the proposed reduction is within the Highway Patrol Division, however, there is no mandate that he must cut Trooper positions. And in fact, the majority of those 27 positions are vacant and have been vacant for some time to meet vacancy savings imposed by the 2015 Legislature.
In the end this comes down to who will get to wear the badge of having suggested an increase in the gas tax. Democrat Bullock who will need to spend his time paving the way for the next Democratic candidate for Governor. Or will it be Fox, who will continue his work as AG and likely poise himself for a 2020 Republican run for Governor. In that effort each face obstacles. Fox will need to fend off a far right challenger. Bullock will need to find and groom a successor.
‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’