Montana dips into crowdsourcing pool to help save money

Earlier this week, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer announced a contest designed to help tap state employees and the public to save the state money during the upcoming legislative session. The Montana Accountability Partnership (MAP) contest ideas must be submitted by April 1, 2010.

As with any local government operation, there is usually a host of low-hanging fruit that could mean quick savings. However, Montana is unique in its budget quandary: they have a budget surplus.

$16.9 million in budget surplus, in fact, but due to declining tax revenues that mid-2012 projection is down significantly, so Gov. Schweitzer told his cabinet to come up with ways to reduce their budgets by 5 percent.

Thus far, Gov. Schweitzer has trumpeted nearly $500,000 in cost saving measures, including reduced out-of-state travel and reduced printing of tax booklets and state directories.

“The best way to be accountable to the Montana taxpayers is to listen to them, and we are,” Schweitzer said Thursday.

The MAP contest has already yielded over seventy cost-saving ideas. According to the Billings Gazette:

• One person suggested replacing computers in state agencies every five years instead of the current four years, a move that could save $3 million.
• One person proposed that the state start using free, open-source software instead of paying to keep its contracts with Microsoft and Oracle. California is pursuing this and has officially accepted open-source software as an “acceptable practice,” which could save that state several million dollars.
• Another suggested that all nonessential state employees work four 10-hour shifts a day. During off days, the thermostats in the unoccupied offices could be lowered and the computers could be turned off.
• Someone suggested creating a for-profit, state-run health insurance office that “could potentially undercut large insurers” and provide services to those who can’t afford it. “A state-run program would provide quality jobs and more tax revenue.”
Another had the same idea, saying Montana should deliver its own health care reform, which could save millions of dollars and potentially help keep open many small businesses.

The contest ends April 1 and the public will vote on the ideas they like best, with the winner receiving a palladium coin, donated by the Stillwater Mine.

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