Local primary candidates for state Legislature were asked the following questions:
1. According to recent revenue forecasts, the 2011 Legislature may need to cut the state budget by as much as 10 percent. What state departments, services or spending policies do you think should be cut? Please be as specific as possible.
2. How should the state clarify or change medical marijuana regulations?
3. Can the state improve how it appraises and collects property taxes – and if so, how?
4. What issue is most important to you and how do you plan to tackle it as a legislator?
Name: Jon Sonju, Senate District 4
Occupation: Business Development – Sonju Industrial Inc.
Years in the Valley: 30
1. I would look into vacancy savings in the different departments of state government. The legislature needs to look into consolidating state jobs and reviewing the state pay plan. The growth of government needs better control. There needs to be the political will to say NO on new spending.
2. There definitely needs to have some licensing standards brought forward. It needs to be reported on how many licenses are given out and by what medical provider. There needs to be full transparency and accountability in this process. The Legislature needs to set policy where there is full involvement with our local governments on regulating this issue.
3. First, there will be a series of bills to address the last reappraisal cycle. Better market trends need to be taken into account. There are many areas in the state where the last reappraisal cycle is taxing people out of their homes. There needs to be a better process in place for actual reappraisals from the Department of Revenue. The legislature needs to simplify AB-26 process (process of informal review of property values- the problem is: the burden of proof falls on the landowner).
4. The economy and jobs are the most important issues to me. This starts by creating a better business climate. Business owners are spending more time in Helena protecting their businesses from hurtful legislation and it should be the opposite. The Legislature should work with business leaders by introducing a positive tax environment and better access to capital requirements. Truly, Montana needs to compete better in national and international markets.
Name: Dan Pickar, Senate District 4
Occupation: Graduated Student of the University of Montana, 2010
Years in the Valley: 20
1. The state should make a priority list of departments and agencies that need funding based on necessity and function for our state. Those at the bottom of the list and those that don’t provide services to the majority of people should be cut.
2. The legalization of marijuana for medical reasons is ridiculous and has too much potential to be abused. The chemical in marijuana that has medicinal values is THC, which can and should be available in pill form.
3. Yes, property taxes are too high for the landowners of the state. Instead of burdening high taxes on landowners, Montana could generate revenue elsewhere. Ten million people visit Montana every year. A tax on tourism would spread the tax burden to everyone that uses Montana, and not so much on landowners.
4. The issue most important to me is creating jobs for the people of Montana. The private sector is what drives the economy so tax breaks and business incentives for business owners are the fastest way to create jobs and get the economy back on its feet.
GOP primary winner will face Mary Reckin (Democrat).
Name: Harm Toren, House District 3
Years in the Valley: 33
1. I think that the Commerce Department and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should be cut drastically and many others by 10 percent.
2. Marijuana is a subject that will need a lot of work. The voters in Montana voted 64 percent for it. I don’t think the Legislature should try to overturn the voters. But where it can be sold and how it can be distributed should be clarified.
3. I have talked to many legislators about appraisal and they say that the state’s Constitution would have to be changed to fix the appraisal problem so that will take a lot of doing.
4. Jobs are important: Without jobs, you can’t pay the bills. I think we need to get rid of the business equipment tax and then take out some of the obstacles of the permitting system. Then we could use our natural resources to provide good-paying jobs and money for roads, schools and take some of the burden off the property taxpayers. It’s time to put Helena in harm’s way.
Name: Sandy Welch, House District 3
Occupation: Business Consultant, Teacher
Years in the Valley: 5 years
1. The increases in spending from the past six years over inflation and population growth should be rolled back. Spending must be prioritized to balance the budget without raising taxes. While I know it is difficult to get the Legislature and governor to consider reducing current funding levels, we must pursue this option. Just reducing the increases isn’t enough.
2. We must ensure that we keep our kids safe and provide a framework for where growing, distribution, and consumption can take place. Medical marijuana cards should have expirations and ongoing medical supervision for the underlying condition in order to renew them.
3. Working within the state Constitution we can work to reset values and limit the impacts of property taxes. Using the look back provision and sales assessment ratios we can reset and equalize values across the state with a new appraisal date of June 30, 2010. We will look at expanding the current circuit breaker ETAP that allows relief to tax payers that had large property tax increases.
4. We must stop creating more bills than we currently pay such as our unfunded pension liabilities. We must take responsibility to face the hard problems head on. The time is now, the problems aren’t going to get any easier by waiting; they will only get harder.
Name: Jerry O’Neil, House District 3
Occupation: Mediator, Attorney on Blackfeet Reservation, Independent Paralegal
Years in the Valley: 67
1. Two of many opportunities are: 1. Cut our public mental health expenses by expanding the state’s use of peer-to-peer support by mental health consumers. 2. Save tax dollars by changing Montana’s public employee retirement plan for new hires from the present defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. In addition we will need to cut all programs across the board.
2. I hear some wonderful reports of medical marijuana relieving pain, restoring function and getting people off hard drugs. To cut down on the social consumption of marijuana, the consumption of marijuana in public and driving under the influence of marijuana, I am seeking public input into a law that would limit consumption of marijuana to one’s own residence when no children are present.
3. The biggest portion of our property taxes goes to our schools; therefore we need to control our spending on education. While not positive, I suspect if given the chance to run it as they see fit, the residents of Hungry Horse, Martin City and Coram could keep the Canyon Elementary School open, run it within their budget and reduce the property tax burden.
4. If elected to represent H.D. 3 it is my intention to lessen the size of government by giving more freedom and options to the taxpayers. I will also work at reversing the encroachment of the federal government. Freeing up Montana medical care providers from unreasonable state and federal mandates would be one way to accomplish both of these goals.
GOP primary winner will face Shawn Bailey (Constitution), Shawn Guymon (Independent) and Zac Perry (Democrat).
Name: Damon Pace, House District 4
Occupation: Internet Entrepreneur
Years in the Valley: 2
1. If my business no longer had positive cash flow, the first thing I would do is stop hiring. That is exactly what the state needs to do: Put a hiring freeze on all non-essential state employees. I also want to learn from states managing larger budget shortfalls. My next step would be to identify and eliminate every bureaucrat stopping businesses from creating jobs. I would then set my eyes on finding ways to make every Montana department as efficient as possible using technology.
2. Medical marijuana should be administered by medical professionals out of a proper medical facility, not out of someone’s home or a downtown smoke shop. The details and execution of this law need to identify clearly what can and cannot be done so our communities are able to manage the impact of the law safely and respectfully.
3. Anyone who’s paid attention to the real estate market over the past 10 years has learned that property values can increase and decrease rapidly. The current property tax appraisal system in Montana does not take these market fluctuations into consideration. Property taxes should be assessed at the county level on an annual basis to eliminate politics and keep up with market fluctuations. I’d also like to see a percentage increase cap for all homeowners and a lock on property taxes for senior citizens who have paid property taxes for longer than 30 years.
4. The most important issue I see in Montana is the lack of a positive business environment. Montana has many assets that it could be utilizing right now to attract business and create jobs, but the businesses aren’t coming or being built because of a set of tax policies that penalize businesses. I want to eliminate those tax policies and create incentives for businesses to create more jobs. The people of Montana need jobs and the state needs to get out of the way so businesses can create them.
Name: Derek Skees, House District 4
Occupation: General Contractor
1. I propose that we look at the current expected revenues from taxation, and find a fiscal year in the last decade where our expenses match that figure. We then eliminate all expenditures that were added in that time span. We did just fine with what we had in the past. If there are programs in that time frame that “we just can’t do without,” then let’s dig deeper and reduce more to afford those “essential” entitlements.
2. We change the statute to allow for over-the-counter-capsule form marijuana/THC delivery. By requiring a prescription, we control the quality and delivery of the substance. We can then more easily comply with federal law that states that public smoking of it is still illegal. It is a hot issue for those few involved, but not nearly as hot as tax reform, spending cuts and job growth.
3. I am a huge property rights advocate. In the past the revenue from logging, mining and resource utilization paid for all school funding (the number one thing our property tax pays for currently). We must go back to utilizing our natural resources with stewardship in mind and let that job-creating and tax-generating mechanism work its magic, along with short-term relief like roll backs or market-appraisal based evaluations.
4. Jobs! We have to get the people back to work. We need to reduce the burden of government, both in taxes and regulation. Eliminate the business equipment tax, and streamline the process for new business start up. Consolidate state departments. Eliminate base line spending and vacancy savings. Government accounting should be transparent and easily available. Reduce bureaucratic waste and promote shifting to the private sector as much as we can that the state currently does.
Name: Bill Geisse, House District 4
Occupation: small business owner
Years in the valley: 6
1. I believe in a balanced budget without tax increases. Education and public safety will require careful attention to avoid cuts to essential services. Each budget should be examined for nonessential items, such as travel to seminars and capital expenditures. While serving on the Billings city council, The Billings Times newspaper stated, “There has not been a tax increase in Billings in four years, mainly due to the insistence of Councilman Geisse.”
2. The medical marijuana law, as implemented, is not what the voters envisioned when they voted for its passage, and needs to be revisited. Issues regarding public safety and vendor safety must be addressed through the legislative process. There needs to be more oversight of the businesses, more stringent zoning control for location, and a limit on the number of grow operations.
3. The state must improve the methodology used for property appraisals. In some instances appraisals are based on comparable properties 40 miles away. This is not fair and can be inaccurate. Comparables must be within a distance of five miles or less. One option is freezing property tax levels and reappraising at the time of sale. I am open to any option that will prevent senior citizens from being taxed out of their homes.
4. The single most important issue, other than the budget crisis, is the creation of jobs. Montana must be more business-friendly. I support the repeal of the business equipment tax to accomplish this. The responsible development of our natural resources will provide living wage jobs. We must attract business so our children/grandchildren are able to stay and live here.
GOP primary winner will face Will Hammerquist (Democrat).
Name: Randy Brodehl, House District 7
Occupation: Cabinet Shop Owner, R & J Enterprises
Years in the Valley: Since 4/2001
1. I support consolidation of agencies; and the elimination of departments, agencies, offices, and non-beneficial services that do not increase the value of state government for the people of Montana. Budgets should be based on the cost of doing good and reasonable business, not on how much budget is available.
2. While this was passed by the voters, the cost of enforcement by local jurisdictions was not part of the equation and did not include a funding mechanism for enforcement. Many of the local jurisdictions have postponed or denied allowing the sale of medical marijuana in their community while they try to figure out how to enforce the laws regarding sale and use. The Legislature should do what it can to strengthen local jurisdictions’ abilities to deny or manage medical marijuana use.
3. The problem is not so much in appraisals and collections; it is in the size and cost of government, including schools, municipalities, transportation, public safety, etc. We Montanans have voted for increases in these services to the point that we can no longer afford to pay the property taxes needed to pay for those services. I don’t believe it is the appraisal system that is broken as much as it is our need to reduce services, regulations, and government budgets.
4. Reduction of dependence on state government. I am committed to: 1. Smaller state government through consolidation/elimination of agencies and boards; and streamlining of the regulatory processes, 2. Tax relief by the elimination of the business and equipment tax, and the reduction of business regulations and fees, and 3. Personal and property rights protection by decreasing state involvement in family, schools, and property use; and moving property regulations to local control.
Name: Steven Thompson, House District 7
Occupation: Operations Manager, IC Assembly Services
Years in the Valley: 27
1. The state budget has almost doubled over the last 10 years and it is not sustainable. I believe we need to make deep cuts across the board. State government has grown too large too fast and it needs to be stopped. In an era of massive spending it’s time to say, “no we will not accept this, send it back to the people who are paying for it.”
2. If it is truly for medical purposes, I think it should be treated like other prescription drugs, given under the care of a doctor, dispensed by a pharmacy and regulated by the FDA. The current law is much too vague and makes it very difficult for law enforcement to deal with drug problems.
3. Property tax appraisal has to change. People can no longer afford to live in homes that have been in the family for generations and that is not right. Short term we need to have caps on the increases, but long term we need to look at a different form of tax, one that’s not base on a non-income-generating asset.
4. The most important issue right now is jobs. We solve the job problem by having government step out of the way and letting people and businesses keep more of their hard-earned money. I will do everything I can in Helena to reduce the cost to the taxpayer. I believe Montana is ready for less government and more personal responsibility.
GOP primary winner will face Karen Reeves (Democrat).
Name: Dane Clark, House District 8
Party: Jeffersonian Democrat
Occupation: Researcher & Volunteer
Hometown: Born in Polson, raised in the Flathead, currently dwell in Kalispell
Years in the Valley: 28
1. Broad cuts across the board and much more than just 10 percent. Limited government will free the burden off of the people. Unrestricted government will destroy the people’s livelihoods because they are the ones who end up paying the tab for government actions. Less state employees and less servicing sessions equal the people having more in their pocketbooks.
2. Government intervention in the marketplace needs to end. The failed “War on Drugs” needs to end. Nonviolent drug offenders need to be released from the privatized prison system. The militarization of the police needs to end. The state is not the warden or God of the people. Husbands and wives need to start parenting again, and leaders need to lead.
3. Yes, but the state is addicted to spending and you will see no positive change in your yearly rental fee, aka zoning tax. True private property is not taxable; when the people will return to obtaining allodial title of their land then life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be restored to the nation.
4. There should be an emergency session immediately. Either current legislators are ignorant or afraid of speaking out about the systemic collapse the economy is in. The cure is implementing a year of Jubilee where debts are cancelled and where those who are enslaved to lenders are set free. After that we will return to a constitutionally sound money system. We have to act now!
Name: Bryan Schutt, House District 8
Years in the Valley: 15
1. Statutory appropriations need to be trimmed: It makes no sense to have all budget-tightening come from just part of state spending while other programs are not examined. Gov. Schweitzer’s plan for re-importing prescription drugs addresses a major part of our budget problem; that of health care costs. Across-the-board cuts to all departments are fairer than singling out individual programs.
2. The 2009 legislation needs many upgrades. There is no systematic monitoring of caregivers and there is no monitoring of patients’ usage. There is not even a requirement to list the address of growing operations. Mega-clinics must be curbed and bona-fide doctor-patient relationships must be established. Basic controls like any other legally recognized medicine could help make this experiment successful.
3. There are problems with the current appraisal system. Homeowners who aren’t selling their houses see their appraisals (and taxes) climb based solely on their neighbor’s sales prices. If capital gains taxes aren’t levied until you actually sell a stock or asset, why should your home’s perceived market value prior to its sale be the main basis of your tax burden?
4. Civility in government is indispensible in solving Montana’s problems. Without it, no issue can be addressed effectively. In my work on the Kalispell Planning Board, I have treated all with respect and fairness. Even though I would be a freshman legislator, I hope my actions in Helena will raise the average level of discourse and make solutions more attainable.
Name: Carl Glimm, House District 8
Occupation: Custom Home Builder
Years in the Valley: Back for 7 years, my kids are 5th generation Flathead
1. I have spoken with many people on this issue, and have heard a lot of great ideas that need to be evaluated. The silver lining in the dark cloud is that we have an opportunity to evaluate each and every department, look for inefficiencies, waste, redundancies and get our government back to basics. As a small business owner, I have had to make those hard decisions and I will do the same for our state in Helena.
2. The citizens’ initiative was very vague and needs to be revised. Proponents of the initiative argued that it is a drug to treat a medical condition. If marijuana is truly a medicine, it should be obtained in the same manner as any other prescription drug. You should go to a regular doctor, get a regular prescription and go to a regular pharmacy to get it filled.
3. It is really sad to see long time residents have to sell because they can no longer afford their property taxes. I grew up in Montana and we choose to live here because we love it, even though wages are higher elsewhere. So we need to ensure that our average citizen doesn’t get taxed out of the state. I will work to reduce taxes at every opportunity for Montanans.
4. One word – JOBS. Right now, we need jobs. I will work to release the entrepreneurial spirit and make Montana more business friendly, because small businesses are the lifeblood of this state: They create jobs. Government can’t create jobs. Long term we need to be fiscally responsible and strive to make our state a leader for the nation.
Name: Steve Lavin, House District 8
Occupation: Sergeant, MT Hwy Patrol
Years in the Valley: 16
1. Our state has a great law that requires the governor to ensure that the state doesn’t spend more than it takes in revenue. We should start with non-essential services cuts that should be directed to those departments first. We don’t need to micro-manage exactly what to cut, just direct the administrators to cut a specific percent to balance the budget.
2. The state should ensure that the medical marijuana laws are used for what they are intended. People with drug sales convictions shouldn’t be able to utilize this law to legitimize their drug sales and habits, which is currently occurring. The state needs to be sure to protect the citizens from the increase in violent crime and dangerous drugged driving resulting from this poorly written law.
3. Montanans need to be protected from unfair appraisals that tax them out of their homes. It’s not fair that long time homeowners get significantly raised appraisals due to the appraisals of property near them. We need to carefully assess each situation and be careful to have reasonable maximums on yearly reappraisals.
4. I’m a social and fiscal conservative, but it’s my opinion that as a representative, what is important to the people that live in my district is what needs to be addressed in the Legislature. I’ve talked with a lot of people and I’ve noticed that the need for jobs should be addressed. Jobs are created by business and industry, which need the freedom to expand without excessive regulation and taxation. Responsibly utilizing our state’s natural resources will also create good jobs.
H.D. 8 GOP and Democratic winners will also face Bill Jones (Independent).
Name: Josh D. King, House District 11
Years in the Valley: Born and raised in the Mission Valley
1. With the recent years of continued unchecked growth in state government, and with the recent examples of state government’s lack of proper spending and controls on waste … i.e. how many vehicles are in the state’s fleet? And what’s the cost to Montana? With the current state of the economy many Montanans have had to make cuts to their household budget and live within their means, so should state government.
2. With the original intent for MEDICAL reasons, we have let this balloon out of control; we need to have a single source for the supplying of marijuana, controlled by private company or state government, regulated and taxed, and have a process to determine what qualifies as medical reasons for medical marijuana. Sorry to say, I’m the first to speak out at adding more government to our lives, but we have lost control of this as a people.
3. We need to make sure that this next session we don’t leave a greater burden on property owners to pay an unfair rate that’s not even across the board; we need to revisit the property reappraisal formula, and start to use more of our state resources taxes to give some relief of the tax burden on property owners.
4. One of the most important issues is the state budget and bringing our state into a more responsible role in spending, and maybe a bigger issue is to see that both parties are working together to bring about bipartisan ways to improve state government, to work for all Montanans. At the end of the day we are more than Republicans and Democrats, we are Montanans, neighbors, family, and friends and we need to leave behind a life that is better today than it was yesterday for generations to come.
Name: Janna Taylor (incumbent) House District 11
Years in the Valley: 28
1. The state shortfall may be as high as $400 or $500 million. First, we have to reduce the Helena bureaucracy and make our state more efficient. Our schools have more administration than almost any other state. All the one-time money that the state received, (Federal stimulus, Otter Creek coal $86 million, and PPL settlement $40 million) makes the problem worse. We need to use our natural resources.
2. The initiative stated the patient must be under a doctor’s supervision. That means on a regular schedule, not a prescription over the internet. No caregiver should have more than a few patients. Maybe it’s time to have growers for the state, tax them, and pharmacies dispense. And marijuana is still illegal federally. Compassionate Montanans passed the initiative, but it doesn’t work.
3. Our constitutional requirement to appraise property on a regular schedule at fair market value is unfair. It takes a vote of the people for a constitutional change. Area legislators have been meeting for the last year and we have several plans. I would like to see our counties re-appraised.
4. There are many other important issues, but I’m concerned about Montana state rights. The Federal healthcare bill will cost our state. The current Federal education funding, “Race to the Top,” has rules that do not fit Montana. I want Montana to decide what is right for Montana when it comes to education, immigration, abortion and gun rights and will sponsor or support legislation that does so.
Name: J. Garth Cox, House District 11
Occupation: Marketing and Service Representative for Health Care Trust; Retired Teacher
Years in the Valley: 36 years since 1974
1. As we look to the budget deficit we must evaluate all areas of government. It will be hard to make the necessary cuts as revenue is not coming in at the rate originally anticipated. Cuts are inevitable in all areas.
2. I believe there should be strict regulations on who can prescribe medical marijuana. I did not support its legalization. More scientific research and better-written regulations should have been a priority. A pill form has been available for many years before marijuana was legalized and no studies have been able prove the therapeutic efficiency of marijuana when smoked.
3. Property tax reform must be a priority for this next session of the legislature. It is not fair to tax property owners out of their homes. A possible way of taxing property on acquisition cost should be further investigated.
4. Jobs and improving the economy are the most important issues facing the state. If Montana could attract more sustainable industries it would solve many of the problems facing the state.
GOP primary winner will face Cheryl Wolfe (Green).
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