The Billings Outpost

Pork-barrel spending

Do you ever wonder how the state picks which road, bridge and sewer projects to fund each year?

Historically, infrastructure grants in Montana are provided through several separate funding bills, passed individually by your representatives in the Legislature. This process allows like proposals to stand on their own merits rather than having their fate tied to unrelated projects that the state pays for in a completely different way. 

Well this year, the governor’s office has introduced a proposal that puts the state’s entire infrastructure spending in one box, and then slapped a catchy name on it so they could sell it to the public. But the truth about the governor’s plan is that it is an unprecedented and unnatural spending bill — plain and simple. And this type of political maneuvering doesn’t fly in Montana.

Politicians in D.C. use these tactics of omnibus bills and “pork barrel spending” to push projects through the legislative process for their own political benefit. It’s a questionable practice that has been used for years by the professional politicians in our nation’s capital, but has thankfully been largely absent in Montana. We don’t like spending tax dollars on political “pork,” and we certainly don’t like putting that “pork” on the state’s credit card.

But it appears that there are some who wish to change the traditional budgeting process within our citizen Legislature, and are putting their own politics before the needs of the people.

A key issue of the 64th legislative session will undoubtedly be the debate over how we fund much needed infrastructure projects across Montana. Our Governor knows that the state is in dire need of this funding—having vetoed the funding passed by the legislature last session — and is ready to leverage the needs of the state to advance a political agenda. 

The governor’s infrastructure proposal, self-titled the “Build Montana Plan” is exactly the type of “crony capitalism” that perpetuates the image of political corruption in Washington, D.C., and now the governor’s office wishes to make political “pork” a permanent feature of the budgeting process here in Montana.

After looking at the governor’s plan, it is pretty clear that its purpose is more for political jockeying and his re-election campaign than to help the people of Montana and their real infrastructure needs.

There’s a reason that “pork barrel spending” has a bad reputation. The governor’s plan is just like something you would see in Congress. It’s a plan where pet projects are paid for with the taxpayers’ credit card.

Fortunately for Montana, there are plenty of responsible individuals serving in the legislature who are focused more on helping the people of our state rather than advancing political agendas.

Sen. Cary Smith

R-Billings

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:20

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Politics of personal destruction

Standing up for principles is not always easy but it is what I do. I believe that it is the job of every legislator to make our state government work better for the people of Montana. As your state senator, I hold our state government accountable for how they treat all Montanans. I strive to ensure we have a small, efficient yet effective government. I always put conscience first, constituents second, and party third, which drives the ideologues nuts.

The extremists in the Flathead Valley have come to personal attacks because they don’t win on the issues. They believe that the U.S. government is bad and trying to depopulate northwest Montana using Agenda 21 or some other conspiracy theories. They believe in the need for public militias to prepare for the overthrow of the government. It is true that the extremists and I are on opposite sides of most issues - the CSKT water compact, support of public education, and the need to support and reform our healthcare system.   

As a public official, I am expected to take personal attacks. The attacks are becoming more brazen and more personal. The attacks of taking bribes and using my position to obtain personal gain are examples of official misconduct and are illegal. I categorically deny any official misconduct. I do not participate in back room deals but work in the light of the public eye. My detractors need to file charges with the county attorney so I can defend myself from these baseless accusations.

The water compact is not a government grab. The state of Montana now owns all of our water and will continue ownership under the Compact. The CSKT compact protects those holding water rights and their beneficial use of water. The water compact settles the quantification of the CSKT water rights through negotiation and ensures that all citizens will have water to develop northwest Montana, now and in the future.

I support our children and our public schools. I believe that our promises to seniors and state employees should be upheld. I support economic policies that promote a prosperous economy for all Montanans. I have always learned the issues, in detail, no matter how complicated or long the document, and make my decision based on what is best for my constituents. These personal attacks will not stop me from pursuing these ideals as I continue to fight for the folks.

Sen. Bruce Tutvedt

Kalispell

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:51

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Wrong about Charlie

In writing about the terrorist attack on a Paris magazine, Billings Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick says he cannot “genuflect before the altars of free speech, freedom of ideas and freedom of expression” (Jan. 11 editorial titled “I am not Charlie”). For this reader, it’s disconcerting to know that the editor of The Billings Gazette has such tepid feelings about free speech.

He is reluctant to support it because he can’t really defend what the outrageously satirical magazine had often printed. I can’t defend its content, either, but that’s not the point at all.

Does Ehrlick think the millions of French people demonstrating their support of free speech were defending the magazine’s content?

The point is that people were murdered over words and pictures. Ehrlick doesn’t need to defend whatever offensive cartoon the magazine may have published, but he does need to defend the right to publish words and pictures – even offensive ones – without being subjected to violence or the threat of violence.

Ehrlick says “freedom of speech needs no defense,” but then he thanks those in the military who have fought and died for those ideals. The truth is that all of us – yes, the military, but all other Americans as well (even The Billings Gazette) – must defend freedom of speech, freedom of ideas, and freedom of expression.

Ehrlick says that if freedom of speech is to be a priceless value, then the words printed must have “real value.”

Oh? And who gets to decide what has “real value”?

Mary E. Fitzpatrick

Billings

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:50

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Constitutional convention needed

The Constitution of these United States has long stood the test of time, serving for over 200 years as the foundation of the rule of law of our county. Since this document was ratified in 1789, the Constitution has only been amended 27 times, proving that the framework installed by our Founding Fathers can endure the test of time like no other republic in history.

Yet, for all of the strengths of our founding document, there comes a time when changes must be made to allow us as a society to address the challenges of our age. With the federal government near bankruptcy, growing in size and scope that is in violation of our 10th Amendment rights and preventing our great state from growing economically by responsibly developing our natural resources, Montana now finds itself in a position where we must call for a constitutional convention to amend our founding document in such a way that restores a constitutional order and system that promotes liberty and our economic well-being.

Failure to alter our constitution to more properly rein in the power of the federal government in the 21st century will lead to a American government, society and economy that is unfit for the new challenges of the 21st century.

The Founders understood that future changes to the Constitution might be necessary if the laws of our nation are to reflect the contemporary needs of society. They provided several means of amending the Constitution, including a provision in Article V of the Constitution that allows constitutional amendment through a Convention of The States. This tool was only to be used in time of dire need, when no other path forward can be found. We now face such a dilemma, and with so much at stake, we have no other choice but the change our founding document. 

In preparing for this convention it is imperative to understand what is at stake in needing to amend the Constitution.

First, the irresponsible and unfounded growth rate of spending by the federal government has endangered the financial systems and credit basis of these United States to the point of future unsustainability. If it is the will of the federal government to transform the economy and budget of our nation into the decrepit status of Greece or a banana republic, the federal government is well on the path to that reality. Therefore it is essential, in order to preserve a system of financial integrity for future generations, which the various states act to find new ways to restrain reckless and irresponsible spending for our children.

Second, the jurisdictional power of the federal government has grown far beyond the legal restraints outlined in the Constitution itself. The federal government’s desire for omnipotence over every aspect of the states and individual citizens is both unwarranted and unconstitutional.

States no longer have the ability to guide their own economic development as they see fit. In Montana, this means under production of our timber, ore, coal, petroleum and oil resources, leading many areas of the state to wallow in poverty.

Additionally, the growth of the federal government has led to the heinous violation of our rights to privacy, right to due process, overuse of eminent domain and fair and speedy public trials.

If the United States continues to wallow in the regressive behavior of over centralization, impotent regulations, tyrannical intrusions and maintaining a nefariously high level of spending, we will then find ourselves living in the 21st century as a regressed, second-rate power, that kowtows to other nations bolder than us.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, at noon at the Capitol, constitutional scholar and former University of Montana School of Law Professor Rob Natelson will present the argument in favor of the amending the Constitution through a convention of the states. I will be attending and I encourage every concerned citizen and patriot to come out and publicly support amending our Constitution to create an America of freedom and prosperity.

Sen. Roger Webb

R-Billings

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:16

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Net metering needed

Why is NorthWestern Energy so opposed to net metering? Net metering allows utility customers to connect their on-site renewable energy systems to the grid to add power when they are generating an excess and to pull power off the grid when they are using more than they are producing. A few bipartisan bills in the state Legislature would make net metering accessible to all Montanans, but NWE has been dead set against them.

NWE is not telling the truth when it says it is acting on behalf of ratepayers. Ratepayers want the choice to be able to generate their own electricity on-site so they are self-sufficient, can lock in power costs for the next 30 years, and can create clean power. 

The truth is that NWE is opposed to competition. The cost of electricity from solar panels has dropped so much that it threatens the utility’s monopoly control over customer power choices. 

So rather than innovating its business model to capitalize on these transformational technologies, NWE has decided to fight them. It’s a dinosaur, stuck in the past, like a phone monopoly trying to use laws to prevent people from adopting cell phones. Just as people like the convenience and freedom that cell phones provide them, they also like net-metered renewable energy systems. And if NWE continues to obstruct change, they are going to start losing customers like me, who will free ourselves from its control and decide for ourselves how we want to power our homes and businesses.

Ed Gulick

Billings

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2015 15:14

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Good deal for Montanans

Providing health insurance to the estimated 70,000 hardworking Montanans earning less than $16,000 a year will promote prosperity and save lives. In the majority of states, Republicans and Democrats put aside partisan politics and expanded Medicaid to their low-income neighbors. It’s time Montana lawmakers do the same.

Everyone benefits from reducing the number of uninsured Montanans. Expanding coverage will not only boost our economy by creating a healthier and more productive population, it will reduce the overall cost of health care. Everyone who pays an insurance premium is helping offset the unpaid medical costs of those without health insurance. It’s a hidden tax on businesses and the privately insured, and lawmakers can curtail the expense by ensuring our federal tax dollars are being responsibly spent on progress at home.

Since January 1, 2014, Montana has forfeited more than $516 million taxpayer dollars by not expanding Medicaid. It’s our money, and right now, it’s being used to pay for expansion in other states.

Lawmakers have had four years to find a Montana solution to meaningful expansion. We’re calling for action.

Expanding Medicaid promotes self-management of a healthy lifestyle by ensuring individuals have access to timely and preventive care like cancer screenings, health risk assessments and behavioral counseling. This helps prevent minor health problems from becoming major – and very costly – health problems that could result in medical bankruptcies and extended absences from work. It is a vital component of creating a stronger Montana, where every citizen has access to high quality and affordable health care.

Montana’s health care providers are committed to improving the health of the communities they serve. Using available funds to provide health insurance to our lowest earners will help accomplish that

goal. We hope the 2015 Montana Legislature knows a good deal when it sees it.

Dick Brown

President, MHA

formerly Montana Hospital Association

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:00

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