After spearheading a successful overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation system, considered to be the most important jobs bill of the last session, Republican Rep. Scott Reichner of Bigfork already has his sights set on reforming tort, Medicaid and property taxes in the next session.
But before he can take on those issues, Reichner first has to win a contested primary and general election to retain his House District 9 seat. He was first elected to the House in 2008 and reelected in 2010.
Frank Mutch is challenging Reichner in the June 5 primary, running as a constitutional Republican who advocates reduced government and property tax reform. Mutch, 72, is a real estate investor and property manager from Finley Point.
Mutch hasn’t previously been involved in politics outside of serving on the Lake County Republican Central Committee. But he said he was drawn into the tea party-inspired movement advocating small government in recent years, including the House District 4 victory of Derek Skees.
“Derek Skees is kind of a hero,” Mutch said. “I think he’s a model for what I would like to see in the Legislature. There are certain areas where you don’t compromise.”
“I’m a conservative across the board – a fiscal and social conservative,” he added.
Reichner, 45, is the owner of Flathead Mortgage. He received widespread accolades as the point man for the workers’ compensation bill overhaul, which reduced workers’ comp insurance rates by more than 20 percent. Reichner says the bill saved businesses $90 million in workers’ compensation premiums last year.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce, he said, called the measure the largest jobs bill passed in Montana in 20 years and named Reichner the MVP of the last legislative session.
Reichner welcomes the primary challenge and said voters will decide whether his legislative record should be rewarded with a third term.
“It keeps you humble and keeps you on task,” Reichner said of having a challenger. “If people like what you did, they will hopefully send you back. If they don’t, there’s another option here.”
The winner of the Republican primary will face Rodrik Brosten, a Democrat from Bigfork.
House District 9 candidates were asked the following three questions:
1. What can the legislature do to encourage economic recovery and job growth?
2. Beside the economy, what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the Legislature?
3. Given that the Legislature appears to be starting with a surplus, what would be your budgetary approach heading into the session?
HOUSE DISTRICT 9
Name: Frank Mutch
Occupation: Real estate investor, property management
Years in the valley: 42
1. Reduce government. We can develop our natural resources in the right way. We are wasting our best resource, our educated people, who have to leave the state. In the Legislature, it has been all talk, no action. Montana is anti-business and anti-energy. Just cross the borders to North Dakota or Wyoming and see the difference. Rein in the executive branch, if necessary, by reducing appropriations. Laws should tread very lightly on liberty and be written in plain English, and all regulations should be approved by the Legislature to meet the intent of the law.
2. In my district and throughout western Montana people are really upset about extremely high property taxes and the fact that, especially during the last session, the incumbent/s did absolutely nothing tangible to correct this. Some property taxes have gone up 600 percent. There are many folks out there, especially seniors, who are being dispossessed of their family homes because of taxes. The state constitution gives the Legislature authority on this issue. It is not that difficult to fix this problem, but the tax-and-spend attitudes of many of the incumbents of both parties must change.
3. The key word is “appears.” Getting the facts on spending and taxing is like trying to dissect Jell-O. If there is a real surplus, return it to the taxpayers. Incumbents brag about this alleged surplus and balancing the budget. The state constitution requires this. It was done with one-time federal money and state trust funds. The only real solution is to immediately cut spending. State revenue can be increased by stimulating the economy. Some taxes will always be required but token tax cuts, as has been done with great fanfare, are just a game unless we stop overspending.
Name: Scott Reichner
Occupation: Flathead Mortgage owner
Years in the valley:15
1. In 2011, I sponsored and passed HB 334, which was, according to the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the largest jobs bill in the past 20 years. We saved businesses $90 million in workers’ compensation premiums last year alone. Businesses were able to put the money to use by hiring more workers and giving pay increases! This law was supported by 95 percent of the Legislature and is a great example of what the Legislature can do positively to help create jobs. I was proud to carry the bill and was named by the Chamber the MVP of the Legislature in 2011. There is more to accomplish for businesses in 2013 and I look forward to furthering our efforts.
2. I will be an advocate of reforming Montana’s property tax system. We are paying way too much in property taxes locally for schools and other services. We need to use the surplus in Helena to reduce our property taxes. 2) It’s time to reform our state’s Medicaid system, which currently has significant problems. 3) Our state employees’ and teachers’ pension systems are failing terribly. We are somewhere in the $3 billion-plus range in unfunded liabilities. I am very interested in helping to reform the current system so that our employees have a reliable and solvent retirement, and so that the system is not decimated as to not be able to attract great quality educators.
3. If there is a surplus this year, we need to reduce the burden on property tax payers across the state. Most of our property tax money funds schools and local government. We can use this money to lighten the burden on our senior citizens and families who struggle to make their house payments by reducing their share of property taxes.
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