I’ve been receiving a lot of letters from Flathead Valley lawmakers with updates from Montana’s 2009 Legislative Session. Since I don’t have room to run all of them in the print edition, I thought I would publish them here. The following are unedited letters from Rep. Cheryl Steenson, D-Kalispell; Rep. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse; Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell; and Rep. Bill Beck, R-Whitefish. Enjoy:
Montana is a state with rich history, full of traditions and beauty. Each day, while walking to the capitol, I am reminded that the capitol building embodies Montana’s history. We are a state that values our outdoor heritage, our right to privacy, our independence and our families. We are also a state that has felt the boom and bust of the mining, timber and building industries. We are resilient.
Now, more than ever, our resiliency is on display. The Flathead Valley has been hit especially hard these past months with job losses, many of which are in the construction, timber and manufacturing industries. I was raised in a family that relied on the timber dollar, so I understand how hard a job-loss or a layoff can be. I know the families that are being hurt by this downturn. They are the parents of my students and they are my neighbors. It is heartbreaking to see the community and people I love go through such trying times.
It is the responsibility of our elected officials to do what they can to ease the burden in these troubled times. That is why I, along with Rep. Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon), introduced a bipartisan joint resolution of the Montana House and Senate urging federal lawmakers to act quickly to pass an economic recovery and jobs package to support the state’s schools, roads and bridges and put jobless Montanans back to work. The resolution is titled, “A Joint Resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Montana urging the United States Congress to enact legislation to create jobs and advance economic recovery.” It details the challenges facing Montana industries and the people who work for them. It also encourages the United States Congress to act on behalf of working Montanans rather than corporations and big business.
This joint Senate and House resolution is happening as both liberal and conservative economists from around the country agree that action is required and the jobs recovery package is critical to our economy. This resolution encourages Senators Baucus and Tester and Representative Rehberg to support the package and bring jobs home to Montana.
Many Montanans are tired of hearing about bailouts. This jobs package is not a bailout. It is a plan to create real jobs and put real people to work. The government is not handing out money, but instead acting as a consumer and investing in our infrastructure like our roads, schools, healthcare systems and energy development. It is an important recovery bill and I am working to ensure that Montana and the Flathead are not left out or fall behind.
Montana’s resilience will continue. We are a strong state steeped in history, hard work and dedication to our way of life. The jobs recovery package is good for the Flathead and it’s good for Montana.
Rep. Cheryl Steenson, D-Kalispell
As of January 14th there were over 2,000 requests for bill drafts. The largest number of requests have been from Democrats: Michele Reinhard from Missoula-72, Mike Jopek from Whitefish-57, Jill Cohenour from East Helena-52, Dan Villa from Anaconda-50 and Republican Senate Leader, Jim Peterson from Buffalo-55. Many of these requests will be place holders for the ‘just in case’ times either side needs a bill under a certain title. Thank heavens these are only requests since it costs about $2,000 per bill when drafted into law.
There are several bills working through the system right now generating a lot of comments. One is the ban of pit bulls as a pet. We’ve never owned a pit bull since our family was more concerned about Chico, the chihuahua, who bit every ankle coming into my in-laws’ house. I certainly don’t think one breed should be singled out since it will only lead to others. Where would it stop? This bill died in committee last week.
Business and Labor heard a bill requiring a landlord to heat the dwelling unit to a minimum of 70 degrees F between October 1 and May 1. Here again, should we be writing laws about the temperature in rentals?
A bill draft to name the official pancake of the state has also been done. Silly as it may be, there’s also reference to the huckleberry syrup which will ooze down its sides. Though I like huckleberry syrup and appreciate it as a local cash crop, this crazy notion will have a red vote from desk 52-mine.
Harry Klock from Harlowton sits next to me in desk 51. He was thrilled last week to share that he now has one grandchild, a little girl born three weeks early and doing well. He is now known affectionately at the capitol as Grandfather Klock.
Through years of teaching I’ve probably seen every odd spelling for a common name and every unusual name stuck on a kid. My own married name prompted a call right after elections. The caller asked if I was the author of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. When he found out the author was a male he quickly apologized and hung up.
My name also got giggles from third graders several years ago watching for my reaction to a Valentine given by a precocious boy in class. It wished me a ‘slam dunk of a day’ and pictured a huge African American basketball player showing his moves on the court with his name written across his jersey. It was obvious we were two different Dee Browns so we all had a good laugh. Third grade humor is a bit twisted as any parent already knows.
Your representatives in state government work hard for the taxpayers in Montana but a chuckle or two during the day is always welcome. I’ve always said, “If you can’t have fun, what can you have?” When it comes to bills on pit bulls and pancakes, however, the taxes used for drafting this sort of legislation are serious time and money.
Rep. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse
It is with great pride that I report to the folks back home after the third week. Your legislature is working together, hard and prudently to draft a budget that is balanced and fits the needs of Montana. If a bill has fiscal note needing new monies, the chance of it passing are very small.
I have been meeting twice a week on the joint reappraisal mitigation committee. Our mission is to craft a budget neutral proposal that mitigates the increases brought on by the recent property reappraisal. The mission sounds easy, but the task is daunting.
The reappraisal state wide shows that the property values in the Flathead went up faster than the state wide average. If we do nothing the property taxes in the Flathead will go up 7%. Rep. Mike Jopek and I are trying to find ways to mitigate that impact on the Citizens of Flathead County, but It is hard it get sympathy from the citizens of Saco.
Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell
After three weeks of committee hearings we are starting to see some very controversial bills. The time for hard decisions is at hand.
The question of federal stimulus spending is on everyone’s mind. Congress is planning to spend a great deal of money to jump start the economy and about $800 milllion may be coming to Montana. Of course that number could change. Many of my colleagues are not very fond of putting our grandchildren deeper in debt, which is what most of federal spending does. The money is coming regardless, so the Legislature is preparing to deal with it. Any stimulus money received should be appropriated by the Legislature rather than leaving it to the executive branch to spend as they see fit. In addition, an ongoing citizens’ commission should be established to assure that the stimulus money is being spent effectively, efficiently and transparently. As I mentioned in a previous article, there is a transparency bill working its way through the Legislature to create a web site that allows the public to track government spending.
A bill to ban “Pit Bull” dogs received a lot of attention last week. There were even threats of bodily harm received by some legislators which increased security in the Capitol while the hearings were in session. The bill died in Committee.
The House Judiciary Committee heard a bill to protect our gun rights. House Bill 228 establishes in law that every citizen of Montana has the right to defend themselves in the home or elsewhere.
In conclusion, the executive budget continues to be adjusted down. The Legislative Fiscal Division (LFD), which is responsible for forecasting revenue trends that have an impact on the General Fund, have this week revised their revenue analysis to show an additional $85 million reduction below the General Fund estimates bringing the total reduction to $220 million since early December of 2008. The revenue estimates have been down in the primary components of the General Fund which are individual and corporate income taxes, property taxes, investment earnings, and natural resource taxes. Almost 75% of total general fund revenues are produced from these sources. LFD will be submitting another budget analysis around the middle of February 2009, which will forecast a more accurate budget figure for the Legislature to work with, in order to balance the budget. A number of State programs are on hold and should be until the Legislature can sort out this revenue puzzle.
Thanks for listening,
Rep. Bill Beck, R-Whitefish
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