'Big Sky' Montana Has Money in the Bank

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Save in flush times, so there’s cash when things head south.

That’s the philosophy of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whose “Big Sky” state has an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent and a budget surplus of $351 million.

“The reason we have money in the bank,” said Schweitzer, a two-term Democrat in this red state. “I ran the state of Montana the way you run a small business or a ranch in Montana.

“When we had good years, three, four, five years ago, instead of committing money, spending the money, like they did in the 48 other states, I vetoed bills and put money in the bank.”

Schweitzer, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is a rancher and businessman, who once opened the world’s largest dairy farm in Saudi Arabia.

The public official's appearance on CNBC is part of a weeklong series in which governors of states with unemployment rates lower than the national average of 9.5 percent tell how they run their state during downturn.

State of the States: Montana

Montana’s largest industries are agriculture, oil and gas production, wind energy and tourism. Among its recent highlights are that it is ranked Number 1 in wind-power growth and is expecting a record wheat crop this year.

Additionally, it has one of the fastest growing economies in the US and is now ranked in 8th place. The US Department of Commerce named Montana the best state for entrepreneurship, and the Tax Foundation ranked it Number 3 in sales tax for business.

Two national parks, Yellowstone and Glacier, are in the state.

Montana used $161 million of its $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money to build a new transmission line to deliver wind energy in both the US and Canada, which borders the state. The 600-megawatt utility has created 1,455 jobs.

Schweitzer sidestepped a question about whether he would support a second federal stimulus package. But he did say that he would put that money into infrastructure.

“When the federal government commits money,” he said, “it’s so they can deliver goods [on federally funded roads] from Seattle to Chicago, not so necessarily to Lewistown, Montana.”

Watch the State of the States daily this week on Street Signs at 2pm ET. On Wednesday, Vermont Gov. James Douglas will be featured.