For most of us, a recession during the holiday season forces tough choices—scaling down, cutting back and exercising good judgment. Government typically works the same way; bureaucrats just whine a lot more than children who don’t get their usual Christmas gift allotment.

If there’s one agency whose fiduciary habits we simply cannot understand it’s the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Montana’s regulatory agency loves to approve questionable mining projects so the EPA can come and clean everything up two decades later. That’s the new restoration economy, folks.

You might have heard about Fidelity Exploration, which got the kid gloves treatment from DEQ after violating its Tongue River discharge permit 132 times over the last two years.

The latest free pass looks like it’s going to Southern Montana Electric for allegedly jumping the gun on construction of a coal-fired plant outside of Great Falls. The DEQ could fine the company $10,000 per day, but so far hasn’t. More financial wisdom from the agency that gave back WR Grace’s reclamation bond on the Libby mine.

Speaking of money, is Montana rich or poor? We’re confused.

Okay, so Gov. Brain Schweitzer’s chicken-in-every-pot budget surplus predictions now look like a partridge in a pine tree. Yet, listening to Republicans in the legislature, one might think our economic situation is as bad as California’s. Some of them, like state Senate President Bob Story Jr. of Park City, want to make more education cuts to the governor’s proposed budget—the one educators are already complaining doesn’t match the cost-of-living increase.

Isn’t it weird that state revenue discussions always include the vernacular of either feast or famine? It’s kind of like watching a 19th century prospector running back and forth between his claim and the faro tables screaming, “I’m rich” and, “I’m broke.”

It might help the schools a smidge if the state Department of Natural Resources Conservation (DNRC) refunded the $1.54 million that legislative auditors believe it wrongfully withdrew from various school land trusts over the past several years.

A 2005 decision by Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath permits the DNRC to recuperate administrative fees for running the land trusts, but a previous agency audit disapproved of how the debiting got done. Examining the financial records of the past two fiscal years, auditors recently handed the DNRC a kingly bill.

The “administrative costs” seem big enough to make us wonder if the gamekeeper’s loo contains some golden toilet seats. We know times are tight, but when you start robbing Peter to pay Paul it just makes the other apostles think they need to carry guns.
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