The relationship between state and federal governments in the United States has historically been a rocky one. In light of the federal shutdown this month, the parameters of this relationship are being brought into question once again. Some states are certainly more dependent on the federal government than others. Where does Montana fall in this regard? In cases such as this, when the federal government is evidently not as reliable as it should be, how confident should Montanans be in their state to function on its own?
I contacted Governor Bullock’s office with these questions in mind, and was given this statement:
“Montana state government is open and our employees stand ready to serve the citizens of our state. All employees are on the job today, and all Montanans should be demanding that Congress gets its act together before we have to even consider furloughing state employees who are paid partially or fully with federal dollars.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking that this shutdown doesn’t matter—it impacts the services we expect from our federal government and over 10,000 Montana federal employees. This morning we had to send home nearly 600 Montana National Guard soldiers and airmen who are Department of Defense employees. We sent home more soldiers and airmen than there are members of the US Senate and House of Representatives combined.
We can have legitimate differences over public policy, but it’s embarrassing that the greatest country in the world would shut down our government based on nothing more than political brinksmanship.”
Although the Governor’s office certainly has plenty of robust state pride on this matter, as they should, fiscal data tells a different story of dependence. In an article published last year by financial news website The Big Picture, we can easily see that for every dollar Montana gives to the federal government, it receives $1.77 back. This tells us that, in the event of a complete fiscal shutdown from the federal government, Montana would be operating on borrowed time.
Keep in mind there are many states that can profess the opposite. States such as Texas and Colorado receive cents from the federal government for every dollar they pay in taxes. New York breaks even, paying dollar for dollar. The reasons for increased federal taxation can vary. In Montana’s case, we have a higher percentage of people under the poverty line, which means more Montanans falling into lower tax brackets. Although these are not the only reasons for increased federal support, they require more federal funding. Nonetheless, the issue remains; in these turbulent political times, how can Montanans feel comfortable in this situation?
The situation isn’t all bad, however, far from it. According to the Montana Office of Budget and Program Planning, the state currently holds an impressive budget surplus and has some of the best small business growth in the nation. Additionally, the Montana Department of Commerce reports growing trade with foreign buyers as well as increased revenue from natural resources. These are excellent prospects. If Montana wants to remain unfazed in the event of a complete federal shutdown, all that remains is for our state’s government to take a critical look at what spending is absolutely necessary. Then we must make the commitment as Montanans to take care of ourselves. We should not rely on federal support, especially when Washington cannot even support itself.