Helena – A newly released memo shows that Montana Department of Transportation(MDT) officials and Governor Bullock knew of shortfalls in the highway fund before Election Day but kept the information hidden from the public until after Governor Bullock had been re-elected.
The memo was obtained by state legislators and released to the media on Thursday, the same day MDT Director Mike Tooley testified before the Senate Highways & Transportation Committee.
Director Mike Tooley sent the memo to MDT employees on November 29, 2016. In early December, state officials informed contractors and the public they would be postponing over $144 million in scheduled highway projects due to budget shortfalls.
To make up for the budget shortfall in the highway fund a coalition of special interest groups led by the Montana Contractors Association are advocating for a 38% increase in the state’s gas tax.
Money for Personnel not Projects
In the memo Tooley tells state employees that, “we have all known for some time that the strain on the state fund is enormous and it couldn’t support business as usual forever.” Tooley goes on to say that despite declining revenues, “there is an increase in MDT personal services in the Governor’s proposal that reflect the negotiated pay raises and appears to support career ladder advancements.”
These revelations did not sit well with lawmakers. “It didn’t seem to me like the director had any other plan besides raising the gas tax. I was hoping he could provide us with a range of policy suggestions to fix his budget that didn’t include raising taxes on middle-class families,” said Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls in a press release.
Fellow Great Falls lawmaker, Senator Ed Buttrey said, “There have been no significant departmental adjustments made by MDT even knowing that revenues were declining. What is worse is that they have no plan to change their models of operation in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Republicans also noted that Director Tooley testified that he has the ability to act with knowledge of budget concerns but he did not offer a solution other than suggesting the legislature should look to raise the gas tax saying the Executive Office and the department do not know what the citizens of Montana want like the legislature does.
By: Big Sky Headlines staff