2016 Election: House District 5

Democrat Dave Fern faces Republican challenger Chet Billi in this Whitefish district

By Beacon Staff
House District 5 candidatesDave Fern, left, and Chet Billi. Courtesy Photos

The Questions:

1. Are infrastructure improvements a major concern for Montana and, if so, what would you do to help pass a comprehensive infrastructure package?

2. Montanans rely on extraction-based industries for jobs, even as demand grows for clean and renewable energy in the region. How would you help employees in the coal, oil and natural gas industries maintain their livelihood, or pursue training in other fields in Montana’s changing economic landscape?

3. Given that the Legislative Fiscal Division has projected an ending fund balance that is considerably less than what was anticipated, what would be your budgetary approach heading into the session?

4. Should the state of Montana push to take more control of some federal land management?

5. What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the 2017 Legislature, and how do you propose dealing with it?

Dave Fern

Residence: Whitefish
Political Party: Democrat
Family: Married to Heather 33 years, three children
Occupation: Self-employed, Chimney Solutions
Education: Community College of Rhode Island
Political Experience: Whitefish School Board, elected continuously since 1992
Website: Facebook page Dave Fern for House District 5

1. It is impossible to do comprehensive infrastructure within the context of a single funding bill. I believe we can address particular issues by such a method, and this is good. Presently, the Coal Trust Fund is designed for funding projects for perpetuity if the principal is left intact. With lowering yields of coal, it would be advisable to consider methods to grow the principal. Presently, 50 percent of the fund goes to the general budget, and this could be adjusted upwards to devote more income to infrastructure funds within the trust. We might also consider adding additional severances other than coal. This might include oil, gas and wind energy. I support the expansion of the resort tax to include a local-option tax voted by residents in the municipality, and devoted to infrastructure and property tax relief.

2. I believe the workers in and around Colstrip are most affected by this change. For those not ready or financially able to retire, such workers must be placed at the head of the line for opportunities within our state technical and university system for furthering their skills. Despite my reticence to spend Coal Trust dollars on issues not related to infrastructure, I believe in this case we should invest in our displaced workforce using the Trust.

3. I can only assume that the state government will have to slow its rate of growth. Essential services that involve children and our elderly and disabled population must be kept whole. The conundrum we face is a growing number of foster children under the state’s supervision and an aging population, both requiring immediate attention. On the revenue side (taxes), I would support an interim committee to look at options that might address such items as methods to collect taxes from tourism and an examination of capital gains at the state level. Economic development is very important, and I hope to see tangible results or recalibration if necessary, from the Main Street Montana Initiative.

4. Article IV Section 3 of the federal constitution clearly states that only our national Congress may initiate the sale or transfer of public lands. I oppose such transfers without a clear plan and a reasoned mandate from the federal government along with a desire from the DNRC and the people of Montana. In other words, who will pay to maintain the lands in question in lieu of the federal government, and what are the advantages for such a transfer? How would this affect economic opportunities, and how would this impact our outdoors heritage?

5. Our demographics suggest that we have an aging population. Eleven counties are projected to have more than 40 percent elderly in the year 2025. An ancillary issue will include memory diseases of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Children and Family Health and Human Services Interim Committee will present four bills to address people with such diseases and caregivers. The bills include the creation of volunteer corps of respite workers to assist families in need of a break, expanding Medicaid services to better serve this population and providing additional resources to local aging services. I want to support such efforts if our budget allows. I’m not sure we have alternative options when it comes to assuring or senior citizens are well cared for.

Chet Billi

Residence: Whitefish
Political Party: Republican
Family: Mother, father, brother, sister
Occupation: Part-time at OfficeMax
Education: High school diploma
Political Experience: Sponsor of ballot initiative I-175
Website: ChetBilli5.wix.com/ElectChet

1. Yes, especially with the failure to pass an infrastructure bill last session. It’s been said before that some legislators want to build 100 new government buildings and call it infrastructure. That is not my view on infrastructure, and I would work with any legislator who is interested in appropriating funds to true infrastructure needs. I will not support pork legislation to fund private projects.

2. I don’t see any evidence of the question’s premise. We do not have the technology to mass produce and store renewable energies such as wind and solar. However, we have made technological advancements that allow us to safely extract fossil fuels and utilize them in a clean manner. Until renewable energy can be mass produced and sustained without taxpayer dollars, Montanans working in the fossil fuel industry have nothing to worry about in terms of economic competition. The only threat they face now is an assault from radical environmentalists within our state and federal governments.

3. Beyond a simple safety net, government should not be subsidizing our lives. Money should only be spent on those services that cannot be provided for in the private sector. Public services like infrastructure, law enforcement, and public schools should be our top funding priorities.

4. Transferring federal land management to the states would result in healthier forests, increased public access, and more revenue for the state. Federal forests are gated off, where they grow untouched until they catch on fire. Almost all of Montana’s annual summer fires start on overgrown, unhealthy federal land. State lands, by comparison, are thriving and healthy, and very rarely are the source of fires. We have wonderful access to our state lands, and they are so well managed. On average, the federal government loses 27 cents for every dollar spent on forest management. In comparison, states generate more than $14 for every dollar spent on management. This is directly representative of the better access we have to recreate on and enjoy state lands. Concerns over Republicans wanting to sell off public lands are alleviated by the fact that public lands are a significant source of revenue for the state. I do not support selling any of Montana’s public lands.

5. Our increasing reliance on federal dollars is one of the biggest looming threats in my opinion. Accounting for nearly half of our state budget, federal revenue is extremely unreliable and heavily restricted. Have we really balanced our budget when the state outspends its revenue nearly 2 to 1, needing federal assistance to make up the difference? Legislators should be actively seeking to create business- and market-friendly environments to help alleviate our dependency on out-of-state money. Failure to do so will leave our future in jeopardy.

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