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State budget crisis-Econ development targeted. (What do you think?- Comments please?)

A Missoula legislator has proposed a bill to chop a major portion of the money that helps pay for the governor’s Office
of Economic Opportunity.

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON, IR State Bureau –

Rep. Rosie Buzzas, a Democrat, said she will ask the special legislative session next month to strip away some of the money for the
program, which was one of the highest — if not the top priority — of Gov. Judy Martz. The governor later vowed to fight the
measure.

“I just think in these very desperate times, when we’re asking people to be laid off and a lot of people will lose their jobs, it seems
ridiculous not to take some of the money we’ve earmarked for economic development and put it in the general fund,” Buzzas said.

“It’s not a mater that we don’t need this program. It’s a matter that we can’t afford it now.”
The Office of Economic Opportunity, created by the 2001 Legislature, receives a statutory appropriation of $350,000 a year and a
regular appropriation of $850,000 a year. The office, attached to the governor’s office, has six employees, headed by Chief
Business Officer Dave Gibson, and is developing a strategic plan to improve Montana’s economy. Some of the money was set aside
to hire a state lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Buzzas, who was waiting for more research from the legislative staff, initially said she was looking at cutting the office’s statutory
appropriation.
Martz said she usually doesn’t offer her opinion on bills until they reach her desk after legislative passage, but she would do so in
this case. She adamantly opposes it.

“If they try to do this, that’s just plumb foolish,” Martz said. “We’re 46th in per capita income. Doing economic development is like
doing research and development. It takes time. We’re doing some good work. It’s our hope for the state of Montana right now.”

Buzzas said she’s unaware of any significant results from the office’s efforts to spur the economy. During the debate over the bill,
Buzzas said she tried unsuccessfully to ask for some accountability by requiring reports to legislators on how many jobs had been
created.

She said she’s a strong supporter of economic development at the local and regional level, but questioned the value of the state
office.
“Given the current scenario, I don’t think we can afford it,” Buzzas said. “We’re talking about people being out of housing and
medication or not being able to see their doctors. I think we have to put everything on the screen and set priorities. In the big
picture of people losing their jobs, people unable to get their medication, people not able to get child care, that is not a priority
that the state can be looking at this time.”

Martz said she has asked for monthly reports on the economic development progress, and the office will present a report on its
activities to the Legislature.
“She has to realize in a year you can’t turn around an economy,” the governor said.
Martz said she was recently in Boise for the National Governors Association meeting and saw the fruits of that state’s successful
efforts.

“You don’t do that by not working at economic development,” Martz said.
Buzzas also said she’s bothered by Martz taking money out of the Office of Economic Opportunity budget to pay for the cost of the
governor having personal security.
“It’s sort of a slush fund in the governor’s office,” Buzzas said. “Personal security for the governor is not economic development.”

Martz said she wouldn’t have done so if legislators “would fund the things that are needed.” She said Montana was the last state in
the nation to provide its governor with personal security. Nationally, she said, each governor has on average six security officers,
while she said she has one full-time Highway Patrol officer and one who works half-time for her and half-time patrolling the
highways.

Buzzas also said the governor’s office should absorb its share of the cuts like other state agencies are being required to do.
However, Budget Director Chuck Swysgood said in most cases the cuts taken by the governor’s office have been more severe than
what other agencies are taking. During the recent round of 3.5 percent cuts, the governor’s office absorbed a 9 percent reduction,
he said.

http://helenair.com/montana/1A2.html

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