The Billings Outpost

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Sales tax would hurt

I read with interest the article on the proposed local sales tax in the Outpost on Jan. 22. I wonder if the merchants in Billings will be as enthusiastic about the sales tax as Jani McCall and Dave Nielsen after northern Wyoming reduces their shopping in Billings if the tax is enacted.

I know the draw to Billings by many northern Wyoming people is the lack of sales tax (saving 5 percent to 6 percent). Many make a “buy” list just for regular trips and many make their large-item purchases and building supplies purchases up there to save money. Most of the time the savings pays for the trip to there.

If the tax is enacted, there will be less incentive to go to Billings for purchases. We in Sheridan have a Home Depot, Walmart, Shipton’s, Tractor Supply, Sears, Kmart and other local stores, so why buy in Billings when it will cost the same plus the extra cost of gas?

As McCall said, “It could be a game changer” especially for northern Wyoming residents and some Billings merchants. Also, Dave Nielsen should be informed that a “tax” by any other name is still a tax. I hope the supporters don’t whine when they have to dig into their own pockets to pay higher prices for things.

For the local people, I would like to add that I have never seen any tax that is to offset another tax actually do anything but add to the tax burden with no offsets materializing. Would the offset in property tax match or be more than what will be paid out in sales tax by the local people? If things go as normal, no property tax relief would materialize and the extra burden of the sales tax would be added to the local people.

Terry Wittmer

Sheridan, Wyo.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:28

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Time for cookies

It’s the 40th birthday of the Samoa cookie, and Girl Scout cookie season is here! Girl Scouts will be knocking on doors through Feb. 22 to take cookie orders and will set up their cookie booths around the community from March 27 to April19.

Of course, we will have all your favorites: Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils and Savannah Smiles – and this year we are introducing two new cookie flavors, the Rah-Rah Raisin and the Toffee-tastic (which is gluten free and only available at booth sales).

Everyone knows how tasty Girl Scout cookies are, but did you know what Girl Scouts learn when they sell cookies? By creating a plan, interacting with customers, and working as part of a team, girls learn five skills –  goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics – to help them succeed in everyday life.

This year, for the first time in Girl Scout history, customers will be able to order from Girl Scouts online with “Digital Cookie” – a groundbreaking addition to the Cookie Program.

As we launch into this exciting new cookie season, we thank you for supporting your local Girl Scouts as they develop into tomorrow’s leaders. Your investment today helps us continue to deliver the best leadership experiences for our girls and make good on our mission to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Sally J. Leep, CEO

Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:27

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Support net metering bill

As the installed cost of renewable energy systems continues to fall, small- and medium-scale solar and wind-powered electrical systems become increasingly cost efficient. Montana law currently limits how and how much power can be used to offset power usage by a homeowner, business, or farm or ranch when an installed system generates more electricity than can be used and is put into the distribution system.

This is unfair. Individuals and businesses should be free to make their own energy choices to offset their own energy needs. To address these inequities a package of bi-partisan legislative bills has been introduced and hearings are being conducted in both the Montana House and Senate.

The bills in aggregate will increase both the amount of power for which credit can be given and how it is done which will make aggregate solar systems and larger individual systems economically feasible.

As to the contention by the utilities industry that solar and wind power distribution would be subsidized by the rest of the ratepayers, public service commissions across the country have studied the costs and benefits of net metering and have all determined that net metering results in more net benefits than costs to other customers and the grid. Contact your legislators and urge them to support HB 188, HB 192, HB 294, SB 134, and SB 182. They are good for Montana and for Montanans.

Tom Tully


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:54

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Wrong to table bills

Sometimes the sun goes round the moon, sometimes the snow comes down in June, and sometimes the most unlikely people take up common cause. That happened in this session of the Legislature when several conservative Republicans joined with environmentalists to sponsor legislation that would remove Big Government obstacles preventing people from generating their own electricity.

It’s called net metering. Under existing law it is allowed — to some degree.  You can put solar panels on your roof, and generate your own electricity.  When the sun is shining, your meter spins backwards, reducing your bill.  When it isn’t, it spins forward, increasing your bill. At the end of the year, the idea is to owe the utility nothing. The cost of solar panels has plummeted in recent years, and appears likely to continue doing so in the future, making net metering a good way for you to lower your electricity costs. 

Unfortunately, various legal limitations prevent many people from taking full advantage of this truly transformative technology. Since conservative legislators and liberal environmentalists had joined forces to change this, you might have thought nothing could have stopped them, but you don’t know the Montana Legislature.

At the behest of our Big Utility, namely NorthWestern, these efforts to reduce Big Government were all tabled. If you want to wiggle out from under the thumb of either Big Utility or Big Government, you are going to have to tell your legislators that this is not OK with you.

Wade Sikorski


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:53

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Witnesses strong armed

In January we saw House Republicans attempting to control state agencies’ testimony at committee hearings.

At our first committee meeting where we were to go through orientation the chair of the committee, Rep. Art Wittich, attempted to adopt a rule to prevent informational witnesses from testifying without first being requested by a member of the committee. Informational witnesses typically testify with first hand or technical knowledge critical to the discussion.

If this rule had passed, informational witnesses would have been preventing from sharing vital information unless specifically requested by a committee member.

Limiting informational witnesses’ testimony before the committee restricts the opportunity for every vital piece of information to be entered on public record. Other committee members and I believe that passing these unnecessary rules would have opened the doors for partisan and ideological imbalance in what the chair allows the legislators to hear and discuss.

Following this motion only two groups were brought in to present certain information.

This action merely set the stage for power plays in committee. Several Republican chairs subpoenaed three Department of Health and Human Services handpicked employees to appear before the House Human Services Committee. The use of a subpoena in this instance is unnecessarily forceful. Subpoenas have been used rarely by the state Legislature and only when people have resisted requests to testify. This should not be a commonplace measure used against state agents who would offer testimony willingly.

This strong-arming of witnesses raises questions of question the purpose of such testimony. Was this a media play intended to incite spectacle rather than gather useful information? Was this testimony compelled to express one ideological viewpoint instead of encouraging intelligent hearings? Was this done in the best interests of all Montanans or did it serve the political interests of one certain mindset or lawmaking ideology?

Restricting informational witnesses and compelling state agents to testify are all attempts to control policy discussion. We were elected to serve and represent the people of Montana, not to put ideology before the people’s work. I would hope that in the future my fellow elected officials conduct themselves in a manner that befits the enormous privilege and responsibility of our position.

Rep. Gordon Pierson

Deer Lodge

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:52

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Thanks for plowing

A big thank you to those who plow our city streets and county roads. You have a huge job to do and you do it very well. You work long hours in severe weather in order to make commuting as safe as possible for our citizens. Of course, everyone’s road is the most important and wants it plowed first but that’s just not possible. Keep up the good work.

Jim Reno

Yellowstone County Commissioner

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:47

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