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Montana Politics

Context is King: How Much Did State Government Grow?

The front page story in today’s Lee papers has the commenters and legislators buzzing because it seems to suggest that there has been some sort of massive expansion of state government under Brian Schweitzer. A quick look at math makes it pretty clear that the story just isn’t that important.

  • How many people lived in Montana in 2004? 926,865
  • How many live here today? 988,415.

For those of you who don’t believe in math or science, that’s a growth rate of 6.64%. The massive growth rate of state government highlighted in the article? A whopping 8.8%. A 2.2% difference is easily explained by factors that the article does mention: expanded programs like CHIP, the Office of Public Defender, and the “growth industry” of Corrections.

Perhaps the rate of growth in state government is something to look at it, but it’s hardly the crisis this sensationalistic story suggests. If the Legislature wants to advocate focused, appropriate cuts based on research of needs, that’s one thing. To overreact and make massive cuts would simply ignore demographic reality.

Update: It’s also worth noting that Montana has fewer public sector employees per capita than North Dakota, Idaho, and those known socialists in Wyoming, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Per capita is a difficult concept to grasp. To be fair, I'm not sure the legislators received a proper briefing on the topic. Perhaps they should spend less time studying the Constitution for Tinfoil Hat Wearing Dummies, and more time covering the stuff everyone else learned before they graduated from high school. I would also argue that the concept that "an N of 1 does not actually prove any point" should be a month long seminar.

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