The Billings Outpost

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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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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


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


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


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2015 12:50

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