Montana Numbers Are Not So Rosy
(This content first appeared as a letter to the editor of the Belgrade News.)
Governing Magazine calls Montana’s government the most prudent in the U.S. The governor’s office uses the news to give an impression of general well-being. His budget director says, “Gov. Steve Bullock has a solid fiscal management strategy.” We welcome good news like that from the magazine, but further context is imperative; other measurements dampen enthusiasm.
Only fourteen states have pensions that are less-funded than Montana’s pensions, and all but five of them enjoy higher incomes with which to fix deficits.
We are 3rd most indebted per capita among states relative to gross state product.
46% of our budget is actually federal funds used by the state, funds that have to be either extracted from taxpayers in other states or borrowed. Montana is 8th most reliant of the states on federal funds.
Montana is 49th lowest in wages–49th!– and 44th in median household income. Nationally, the average annual wage is $46,440; Montana’s is $39,090; Colorado’s is $48,950; Washington’s is $52,090.
Our state is 44th lowest in economic freedom rankings. Economic freedom consists of market-friendly labor laws, low taxes and relatively small government.
We have the 16th highest tax burden relative to ability to pay; we have a middle-of-the-pack tax burden but scant ability to afford it.
Businesses here pay some of the highest worker’s compensation rates among the states, crimping hiring.
The budget director’s praise may be opportunistic, political happy-talk.
These numbers cause concern; they also show us where we can improve. Starting from such a low point, making our economy more prosperous would not be a big stretch. Let’s do it!