Fiscal Accountability Press Release

Press Release

Lawmakers Asked to Target Stimulus Spending

With Montana on tap to receive around $600 million in federal stimulus dollars, a nonprofit Bozeman policy watchdog is asking lawmakers to pledge that one-time federal stimulus dollars will only be used on one-time spending projects.

“The danger,” according to Montana Policy Institute (MPI) president Carl Graham “is that these one-time stimulus dollars will come into the state budget and be used to create spending requirements that won’t end when the initial federal money has dried up.” He cited several potential examples, including hiring new full time employees, creating new subsidy or entitlement programs, or even permanent tax relief – something the fiscally conservative organization would normally applaud. If any of these things happen, according to Graham, future lawmakers will be put in a position of either having to raise taxes to support the new spending or making painful cuts to people and programs; something that MPI says is an unfair burden for current legislators to place on future generations.

MPI mailed the pledge, which can be found at www.mtpolicy.org, to lawmakers on February 10th. It notes that if this one-time money is spent wisely on one-time projects within the state it has the potential to address serious maintenance and infrastructure backlogs while injecting jobs and money into our economy. However, according to a letter accompanying the pledge, if the one-time dollars are spent in ways that create ongoing programs and obligations or in ways that don’t create jobs or increase productivity, it will just create hard decisions down the road without helping Montanans who are truly in need today. “That’s not fair to our citizens, to our children, or to our future lawmakers.” according to Graham.

MPI hopes to gain broad bipartisan support for the pledge and will publish results in early March.

 

 

The Montana Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. To find out more visit us on the web at www.mtpolicy.org.

 

Bozeman Nonprofit Announces School Financial Transparency Web Site

Press Release

Today the Montana Policy Institute unveiled a comprehensive web site containing school financial data from across the state. The site, www.schoolsopenmt.org, provides historical revenue and spending information for every school district in the state, and allows Montanans to compare district revenue, spending, staffing, performance, and other measures across any five districts and with state averages.

The site’s goal, according to MPI president Carl Graham, is to provide citizens, opinion leaders, and lawmakers with a user friendly and comprehensive source of information on school revenues and spending from around the state. The site contains easy to use search tools and graphics that translate raw data from official but difficult to navigate sources into usable and understandable information. “The goal isn’t to pass judgment or change any minds” according to Graham. “We want to raise the level of debate about school spending by providing taxpayers with as much information as possible. Once they see the data they can decide for themselves what the numbers for their district mean.”

The site guides users through historical revenue and spending levels across a variety of categories, including salaries, administrative costs, and more. They can also compare revenues and spending categories along with achievement scores across five school districts of their choice along with state averages. All of the data was gleaned from official state sources over a six month period by scouring government web sites. But not all of MPI’s collection efforts were successful.

“We also wanted detailed district level spending so that we could see more than just how much was spent and actually provide taxpayers with a view of what their dollars were spent on” said Graham. Unfortunately, nearly 45% of all districts did not respond to MPI’s data requests. Another 45% or more responded that MPI could copy the documents in district offices or pay to have them copied and mailed – a challenging task with over 400 state school districts but within their rights under current law. And of the remaining districts fewer than 10% provided any usable data at all. The results of these requests are also at www.schoolsopenmt.org so that people can see how – or if – their district responded to data requests.