Governor proposes 10 percent budget cut for Highway Patrol

By: 
The Associated Press

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Gov. Steve Bullock's budget proposal for the next two years includes a 10 percent cut for the Montana Highway Patrol — a $7.7 million reduction that would mean the loss of 27 jobs, most of them troopers.

"The governor is aligning expenses with revenues across the entire budget," Bullock's spokesman, Tim Crowe, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (bit.ly/2fDOiMg). The patrol's reduction is its proportion of the reductions in fuel taxes. The Department of Transportation also faces cuts due to decreased fuel tax revenue, he said.

Crowe did not respond when asked whether the governor believes the patrol can absorb the cuts while still fulfilling its duties.

The patrol's current two-year budget is $74.3 million. Bullock is proposing a $66.5 million budget over two years starting on July 1. The patrol has 299 employees, including 238 uniformed officers, the Department of Justice said.

Attorney General Tim Fox, head of the department, called the proposed cuts dangerous.

"The governor's proposal to slash the patrol's budget, while offering no budget solution, demonstrates a lack of leadership and a misunderstanding of the public safety challenges facing out state," Fox said.

Bullock served as attorney general from 2009 to 2013.

Fox said he's confident the Legislature will work with the governor to find a solution. Lawmakers begin the 2017 session on Jan. 2.

Trooper Dustin LeRette, president of the Association of Montana Troopers, said he hopes state leaders will realize the need to have a serious conversation about raising the 27 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax.

"The governor's budget proposes significant reductions in state highway construction and cuts to the highway patrol because the state lacks sufficient matching funds to take advantage of the monies allocated to Montana by the federal government," LeRette said in a statement to the Chronicle.

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