Fairness…. your choice



2011 Legislative Session

The Oil/Gas Revenue Debate:
A Discussion of the Larger Issues Involved….

I received the following letter from the Montana Rural Education Association.  It was written by Gordon Hahn, Saco School District Superintendent and was sent to the 2011 Legislature.  Interesting take on the governor’s proposed budget which is structurally unbalanced, relying on one-time money transfers as well as robbing surpluses from fiscally responsible eastern Montana schools.

As a reference, I am the superintendent at Saco School District in Saco .  We subsidize our school budget significantly with oil and gas money and thought I would give a different perspective to mull over as it relates to the oil and gas revenue controversy.  My words reflect a view from the inside of this controversy.

Saco doesn’t take any GTB and we don’t run any mills for the school, including permissive ones. We do, however, pay the mandatory 95 state wide education mills.  We subsidize our GFB by about 60% with oil and gas revenues.  We also fund many of our other funds with oil and gas money so as to not burden our local and/or state taxpayers.  We don’t compete for other grants (except the Federal ones) or special OTO money so as to not take any funds from a district that might need it.

An argument I consistently hear is that “it isn’t fair” that our tax payers aren’t assessed any mills for the school when other districts are.  The position reminds me of the 6 year old that complains he didn’t get as big a toy at Christmas as his 12 year old brother did.  Parents, myself included, often tell their children that “life isn’t fair” because, frankly, it isn’t.  There are always two sides to every situation and this oil and gas one is no exception.

Is it “fair” that Saco ’s taxpayers don’t have any mills for our school?  Is it “fair” that Billings has a swim team and we don’t?  Is it “fair” that Helena can offer four years of French when I can’t even offer any foreign language?  Is it “fair” that Bozeman is surrounded by mountains when Saco isn’t?  Is it “fair” that I have to drive 6 hours for a meeting in Helena when Townsend only has to drive 30 minutes?  Is it “fair” that we have to go 2 ½ hours to shop at Wal-Mart when Billings has two of them?  The truth is this:   You can’t “equalize” everything across the state, including school funding, because no matter what you do, something “isn’t fair” to someone else.  Is it “fair” to tax us additional mills when we won’t even use it?  Is it “fair” to force us into needing tax mills so other districts can reduce theirs?  Is it “fair” for us to subsidize AP physics class in Missoula or Helena ’s tennis team by taking our money away when we don’t have the same “extra” programs?  Is it “fair” that the property values here are significantly lower than Kalispell’s?

We, here in the northeast, put up with the drilling, the trucks, the cost of living, and the impact of getting oil and gas revenues.  The “western” portions of the state won’t allow exploration of oil and gas because “heaven forbid” they cut down a tree to do it.  I’ve seen reports that there are more oil and gas reserves in the west than the east.  Why not push a bill that spreads oil and gas money to schools in counties where they allow oil and gas exploration?  That seems fair to me.  Perhaps then, the western portion of the state will begin to tap into the financial benefits of their own oil and gas reserves.

Allow me a simple anecdote:  I bought property north of Saco when I took my job here.  My land borders one of the irrigation canals that passes through the Saco flats.  We are assessed (about) $750 per year for irrigation rights even though I don’t irrigate any of my land and never will.  Is that “fair”?  I don’t use it, but I’m taxed on it anyway.

What’s the point?  The point is this:  “It is what it is”.  If I don’t like the irrigation tax, I can move to an area that doesn’t border the canal.  Saco has no school mills for its taxpayers.  If someone wishes they had “no mills”, they can move here.  It is what it is.  If I want a school with a swim team, I’ll move to an area that has one….I’m not going to complain because my current school doesn’t have a swim team.  If I want to live where there are mountains, I’ll move there.   Finally, if we intend to equalize things, I’d like the mosquito problem here to be eliminated so we have the same mosquito count as Billings J.  Wouldn’t that be “fair”? It is what it is.

It just doesn’t seem appropriate to take what is earned here and spread it around to those counties that won’t allow any drilling.  Are the people of Saco fortunate to have the oil and gas money?  Sure we are.  Are the people of Helena fortunate to have a school with four years of French and a speech and drama team?  Sure they are.  Is it right to make the people of Saco subsidize the cost of running the schools in Helena when we don’t have the same amenities?  No.  Saco doesn’t have near the peripheral opportunities large schools offer but these same schools want to take our money from us to support their programs.   Perhaps if the legislature could guarantee that Saco High School can have everything that Missoula high schools have, maybe then sharing oil and gas revenues would be “equitable”.

I know there aren’t any easy solutions to the state’s funding of schools.  We are in this hole because of the mismanagement of the funding two years ago and now, it appears, the State wants to take money from schools that have management their resources well.  I suggest that instead of taking from us to “equalize” us with other schools, why not look at ways to give more to schools so as to equalize them with us?  How?  Allowing state-wide drilling.  That’s how.

Until all taxes are “equalized” throughout the state, it isn’t right to take from a selected few and give to all.  If this is done, then ALL tax revenues (property, utilities, natural resources, etc.) need to be shared equally.

I’m tired of hearing the “fair card” played and that we need to “equalize” out school funding in this debate.  You can’t make everything “fair”.  We’ve been telling our children this for years.

Gordon P. Hahn, superintendent

Saco Schools.

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Bloviations by Governor Brian


Shovel-ready indeed. It is getting deep! Sen. Hamlett is right about one thing, BS is certainly a tool.

During Schweitzer‘s SOTS speech, liberal  media/bloggers/lobbyists hacks were tweeting the praises of our Governor to the point that I was tempted to ride out the rest of the event in a pair of thigh-high boots… it was really getting deep, but such tweets were unnecessary as nobody does a better job of praising Governor Schweitzer than the ego-centric proud governor himself. Governor Schweitzer,with his frenzied appearance, bloated body, shiny (slime or grease perhaps) happy face, and trusty bolo tie  looked like a statesman heart attack waiting to happen as he delivered his final lecture SOTS address to the Republican-controlled legislature last night.

Governor BS delivers Montana some more BS

 

Arrogant blowhard Never one to brag, Governor Schweitzer gave credit where credit was due- to himself.  Placing the focus on jobs- after poking fun at Republicans of course- Schweitzer touted mining and natural resources, agriculture, and our bright future.  Instead of being forthright in admitting  that his budget relies on raiding various pots of one-time money to squeak by the next two years, he chastised Republicans for always utilizing low revenue projections, telling them that if they chose to cut funding for public education, they would be doing it as a reflection of their values, not because of fiscal need, citing Montana’s “money in the bank”.   I find it ironic that he is punishing the fiscally responsible schools in eastern Montana by stealing taking their surpluses to fund education in western Montana.  If our economic forecast is so bright, why is this necessary?

Perhaps our next governor will need neither, Bob.

Now there is an idea....

I would like to remind Governor Schweitzer of his own words used early in his address: “Be careful of half-truths, you may just get the wrong half.”  Indeed, I feel very a little dirty after listening to his hour-long  brag-fest address.

City Lies: Montana left giving Pinocchio some stiff competition


City Lies: Montana's Democrats Lie to Constituents

Today the Billings Gazette features a beautiful contrast between the members of the media who prefer to ignore facts and those who respect Montanans enough to print the truth.  Ed Kemmick, TEA party/liberty hater, penned the article “City Lights: Learning From the News”.  In it, he inadvertently yet efficiently demonstrates to Montanans why exactly we don’t, in fact, learn anything from the news.   In Chuck Johnson’s “Horse Sense: Contrary to rhetoric, lawmakers did not raise salaries” Johnson wrote a far more factually accurate account of the Republican “hypocrisy” Democrats, including Kemmick; have alleged.

Fortunately for “journalists” like Kemmick, most Montanans haven’t developed the critical thinking skills required to discern media bias, so I appreciate the Gazette throwing us a bone with this display of Kemmick’s obvious (and typical) partiality.  The title,  “Learning from the News” is actually hilarious.  To those of you who aren’t familiar with the events in the Montana legislature this week, allow me to recap.

  • HB1, also known as the “feed bill” passed on a strict partisan vote.  All 68 Republicans approved it while all 32 Democrats voted in opposition.  This $8.8 million bill pays for the entire legislature- staff, equipment, salaries of the legislators, etc.  It is equal to only .24% of Governor Schweitzer‘s proposed budget.
  • HB1 is $370,000 less than in 2009.
  • Legislators are paid $82.64/working day of Montana’s 90 day biennial session. Their per diem allowance increased by $1.62/day, to $105.31/day (such increase by law is adjusted based on the lowest of three factors).  In reality, due to calendar differences, this legislature will actually be paid slightly LESS than the one in 2009.
  • New legislators are allowed $1000 for the purchase of a laptop- some argued that they should be forced to use their own.  Either way, the allowance is a full third LESS than in 2009.
  • Fees for health insurance of all state employees has risen from $626/month in 2009 and $679/month in 2010 to $733/month this year.  Legislators, as state employees, are eligible for either health insurance or a subsidy, they cannot be blamed for rising health insurance premiums.
  • Democrats have accused the Republicans of “voting themselves a pay raise”, something that is actually impossible according to Section 5, Article 5 of the Montana Constitution (yes, that same Constitution many Democrats believe is among the best in the nation) preventing lawmakers from legislating their pay, whether it be an increase or otherwise.
  • Condemning the GOP as hypocritical for their opposition to national health care reform mandates, the left presented acceptance of  health benefits as equal to taking a government subsidy, when in fact, this generous benefit is available to all state employees.  Shall we consider each Montana government employee a ward of the state? Furthermore, I have a feeling that if Americans were all offered the opportunity to purchase the same health insurance as our state employees instead of being FORCED to buy a product from which US lawmakers exempted themselves, public sentiment would be drastically different.

Regardless, this difference in ideology is not an excuse for blatant dishonesty by our Democrat public officials. For those who aren’t aware of what constitutes a lie, according to Webster’s big red book of definitions, a lie is:

a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive, something intended or serving to convey a false impression, an inaccurate or false statement, a falsehood.
Let us examine the words of our state’s liberal elite:

Kendall Van Dyk, Senator from Billings,
said tea party-backed Republicans who have trashed government spending need to live by their own rhetoric. He pointed out lawmakers get to keep the laptops even if they lose their next election.  ”Before they do any legislative action up here they sign up for a free computer and free health care all on the taxpayer dime,” he said. “Given the economic times where you are talking about a Republican majority that is looking at cutting $360 million, maybe they should back away from the government trough before they start making cuts to education.”
“On one hand they come to town and they want to cut the size of government — does that mean all of government except themselves?” Governor Schweitzer said. “I think if you are running for public office you probably have a personal laptop and that should be good enough.”  Governor Schweitzer has also recently accused the Montana legislature of being the “biggest boozers”.

From these statements, one could reasonably assume that both Senator Van Dyk and Governor Schweitzer use their own computers for work,  refuse a salary including the per diem allowance and forgo all health benefits.  We can also assume that other than Schweitzer’s Sunday mass communion vino, he probably isn’t much of a drinker.  Surely their liberal mouthpiece, Montana Cowgirl is not being paid with any Montana taxpayer dollars either, right?  After all,  that would make them all HYPOCRITES and you know what they say about those in glass houses.



Hypocrisy or Hyberbole?


Montana’s GOP legislators, most of whom campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and cutting government waste are now being labeled as hypocrites by Governor Schweitzer and many of the legislature’s Democrats.  After proposing early budget cuts, nearly every move made by  GOP lawmakers thus far has been criticized by the left.

  • Approval of $1000 stipend (down from the previous $1500 allowance approved in 2007) for purchase of a laptop to be used by members of the legislature- Governor Schweitzer thinks they should use their own computers while the legislature argues that other state employees aren’t asked to supply their own equipment.
  • Inclusion of provisions to increase health benefits for legislators in HB #1, the “feed bill” which pays for the biennial legislative session.  Democrats say that it equates to “voting themselves a pay raise” while Republicans state that voting for increased compensation for themselves is constitutionally impossible.
  • Intentions of repealing/nullifying exceedingly unpopular national health care reform mandates- Schweitzer and other Democrats are calling Republicans hypocrites for accepting health insurance from their employer, the state of Montana; while actively trying to thwart the implementation of Obamacare within the state.
  • Schweitzer also recently stated publicly that the legislators are the “biggest boozers”.  His accusation was most likely directed at the left as well as he didn’t distinguish between political parties.

What do you think?

The Petty Perspective From Within King Schweitzer’s Glass House


Brian Schweitzer and Kendall Van Dyk think Republican legislators are hypocrites and boozers.

Governor Schweitzer really loves Montana’s legislature.  In light of the high rate of compensation ($10 or so/hour) the lawmakers  rake in at work, he wants them to provide their own personal laptop computers for legislative use.  After all, they are making the big bucks while working during Montana’s biennial session.   Today Schweitzer blasted Republican leadership for approving laptop purchases for legislators, calling them hypocrites for campaigning on fiscally conservative platforms.  Schweitzer said that he stopped all computer purchases in the executive branch a few months ago to save money. He says he now only purchases computers if absolutely necessary.

There is no word on whether the governor’s staff uses their personal computers at work, but House Majority leader Tom McGillvray doesn’t seem to think so.  Schweitzer’s comparison to the ban on new executive branch computers is flawed because none of those state employees are required to use their own personal computer. And neither should lawmakers, McGillvray said.

The “feed bill”, which pays for operation of the legislature was approved Monday containing a computer stipend capped at $1000 for lawmakers.   Since 2007, legislators have been given a stipend of up to $1,500 to buy a laptop computer for their own use.

Some democrats plan to oppose the bill.   Sen. Kendall Van Dyk of Billings said tea party-backed Republicans who have trashed government spending need to live by their own rhetoric. He pointed out lawmakers get to keep the laptops even if they lose their next election.  “Before they do any legislative action up here they sign up for a free computer and free health care all on the taxpayer dime,” he said. “Given the economic times where you are talking about a Republican majority that is looking at cutting $360 million, maybe they should back away from the government trough before they start making cuts to education.”

“On one hand they come to town and they want to cut the size of government — does that mean all of government except themselves?” Schweitzer said. “I think if you are running for public office you probably have a personal laptop and that should be good enough.”  Last I checked, Brian Schweitzer was indeed an elected official.  I’m guessing he probably doesn’t use his own personal laptop for work but I could be mistaken.  Where does Governor Schweitzer live?  Perhaps he should forgo his accommodations at the Governor’s Mansion in favor of an more economical Airstream?  Surely the state could make some extra money by turning the governor’s house into a Bed and Breakfast… although I doubt Travelocity and Expedia would assist.  And Sen. Van Dyk…. I’m guessing you are working without compensation or health insurance?

Anyone who has known a state legislator (or has cared to research the issue) is probably aware that the service they provide is a substantial sacrifice.  Their compensation is actually rather minimal and they reside away from their families during the session.  Governor Schweitzer has consistently criticized the entire legislature for everything from being “boozers” to being fed by lobbyists.  For a guy who keeps talking about bipartisanship and working together to pass an adequate budget, he sure has an interesting way of displaying his affection.

I’m not sure how things work in the Montana state government, but I’ve never had an employer expect or even allow me to use my personal computer at work,  primarily due to security concerns.  I do believe that the computers purchased with legislative stipends should probably belong to the state and that upon leaving the legislature, they should be returned.

Governor Schweitzer Loses a Round to the Boozers


Schweitzer isn't likely laughing now.....

Helena District Judge Kathy Seeley dismissed Governor Brian Schweitzer‘s lawsuit against the 2009 Montana legislature today due to a lack of legal standing.  Claiming House Bill 676, a companion bill to HB2, was unconstitutional because it contained multiple subject matters (Montana’s constitution allows only the general appropriations act, House Bill 2 to contain multiple subject matters) and that as a result,  Schweitzer’s veto powers were compromised.  Schweitzer, instead of vetoing the bill, allowed it to become law without his signature in 2009.   Lawyers for the legislature argued that he could have vetoed the bill if he had legal issues with it and Judge Seeley agreed as Schweitzer wasn’t able to identify any impairment of his veto power whatsoever.  Judge Seeley’s decision can be found here.

Legislators on both sides of the political aisle praised the judge’s ruling, expressing hope that the litigation has come to an end to avoid wasting further taxpayer resources.  Schweitzer has not yet decided if he will appeal the judge’s ruling to the Montana Supreme Court.

Last week, Governor Schweitzer took jabs at the legislature, claiming they were the “biggest boozers”.  He cited Department of Revenue data that showed a spike in liquor sales in the Helena area during Montana’s biennial legislature.  Ignoring the fact that the legislature brings literally thousands of people to Helena in lobbyists, legislative staff, and citizens testifying on bills, he instead chose to place the blame on Montana’s lawmakers.

The Log In Governor Schweitzer’s Eye


“In politics, it doesn’t matter what the facts are, it matters what the perceptions are. It is the way you frame it.” Brian Schweitzer, Montana Governor

Governor Brian Schweitzer, well-known around Montana for his hard-drinking and overly flirtatious behavior recently used a tax revenue press conference to publicly criticize Montana’s legislators.       Citing Department of Revenue data indicating that wholesale liquor sales increase in Helena during the biennial legislative session, Schweitzer appeared to place that blame solely on the legislators.  “These are the ones who are the biggest boozers” said Schweitzer.

In a session already expected to be contentious, the comments aren’t sitting well with Montana’s lawmakers.  “That is outrageous. We work very hard,” said Dave Lewis, a Helena Republican who has worked in one capacity or another around the Capitol for decades.  Considering the number of lobbyists and legislative staff in Helena for the session, it  is ridiculous to blame the liquor sales spike on only the 150 elected lawmakers.   Legislators  make significant sacrifices to serve  in Montana’s 90 day session living away from their families and being paid only minimally.

Hallmark mechanisms  of alcoholism and other addictions are the use of  projection and a tendency to blame others. Recognizing and owning one’s problems is key to recovery.  Perhaps Governor Schweitzer is hiding his own chemical dependency issues by projecting his faults on to his adversaries.  I have personally witnessed on numerous occasions,  excessive “boozing”  by Brian Schweitzer himself and his behavior is certainly not becoming of the office he holds.  In the past, Schweitzer has criticized legislators for eating “thick steaks and old whiskey” compliments of lobbyists.  No word on who buys the beef and spirits for the governor.

Lefty Love Affair With Endangered Democrat Jon Tester Ends Like a Bad DREAM


The End of a DREAM

Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester have had few successes in recent years.  Conservatives feel they have  ignored the wishes of their constituency in pushing through national healthcare reform mandates and other unpopular legislation while progressives feel they haven’t done enough.  Some liberals now refer to the Montana Senators as “blue dog democrats” and describe their political ideology as “right of center”.

You know things are really bad  when your most vocal and loyal fans turn on you though.  In a tragedy befitting a political Harlequin romance novel,   Markos  Moulitsas, the influential founder of the lefty website DailyKos, has broken up with Senator Jon Tester.   After the desperate Senator expressed his intent to vote against the controversial DREAM act,  Moulitsas took to publicly criticizing the man he’d once described as the “future of the Democratic party”.   Moulitsas tweeted “Good luck getting reelected now A**hole” as well as a host other disparaging Twitter comments about the man he’d once loved.

The DREAM act is over, possibly forever; and with it ends the liberal dream of millions of new undocumented Democrats becoming legal voters.  Moulitsas and other progressives have been betrayed by Tester’s desperation as he is facing a difficult reelection bid in 2012.  Montana voters would not forgive the Senator’s support of the DREAM  act on top of the national healthcare reform mandates so Tester caved.  It remains to be seen whether liberals will forgive Tester or express their disappointment in the Senator by closing their checkbooks but it is certain they will not soon forget.  Steve Daines,  a Republican Montana businessman is thus far Tester’s only opponent in the 2012 election although there is speculation that Montana’s lone Congressman Republican Denny Rehberg will seek Tester’s seat in the US Senate.

 

End of a DREAM, Loyal Supporters Turn on Tester

 

 

Disgruntled District 36 Democrats Declare Dastardly Deeds Responsible for Julie French’s Defeat


 

A NE Montana couple is upset that Julie French was defeated in Montana HD 36

Although the Northeastern Montana laugh of the week was provided by the traveling gentleman who thanked the area hospital for their kind and compassionate assistance with his horrible binding case of constipation, Teresa and Robert Jensen (Reserve, MT) provided some competition. Their sugary-sweet love letter to recently defeated Montana state representative Julie French appeared in the Sheridan County News (Plentywood, MT) on November 11, 2010:

 

Thank you Rep Julie French for the dedicated and loyal service you have given the district the past four years in the State Legislature.  During your years in Helena, you proved yourself to be a tireless dependable worker on behalf of your district.

Your legislative accomplishments are solid and you showed time and again that it was your constituents who counted, not the special interests.

I’m very proud of the clean campaign you ran. You talked about the issues that are relevant to our part of the state and you didn’t make any easy promises that will be impossible to keep.  There were no false statements or slanted views. Your campaign was yours and yours alone. Your years of experience and knowledge will be a loss to the legislature, especially in dealing with BNSF.

I want to thank the voters of Sheridan County who rejected the well-funded campaign of fear and smear and voted for Julie.  They deserve credit for standing up to the outsiders who made this one of the most disgusting election campaigns in my memory.

But I am disappointed that neither the Knudsen campaign nor the responsible republican leadership in Sheridan County did not publicly and visibly repudiate those tactics.  It will be a blot on their reputation for a long time.

We need to get away from the kind of negativity that characterized this campaign.  People need to work together to resolve the issues and challenges that face the state and the district.  All our eyes now will be on your successor and we will be watching to see if he lives up to all of his promises.

Julie, while you may not be going back to Helena for the next term, I know your commitment to the people of House District 36 and to the common good of our communities will continue to find ways to express itself.

Again, thank you, Julie, for all your hard work on our behalf.

Sincerely,

Teresa and Robert Jensen

 

Mainstream Montanans will certainly miss Julie’s voting record.  In her time in office, she was able to make many new friends including  unions, radical environmentalists, and many other oppressed minorities.  She should be proud of her ‘D’ scores from Montana Shooting Sports Association, her anti-business scores of 21% and 32% from the Montana Chamber of Commerce, her score of 14% from the Montana Family Foundation, her 100% scores from radical environmentalist groups and her score of 85% from NARAL.

Businesses won’t miss her votes nor will those who work in the oil and gas industry, unborn babies, hunters and gun enthusiasts, stockgrowers, or those with family values.  Apparently Teresa and Robert Jensen don’t believe those issues are relevant to their part of the state.  District 36 is located in the northeastern corner of Montana where residents enjoy hunting and work primarily in the agriculture or oil industries.

According to her voting record, Julie French doesn’t feel Montana should require drivers license and professional examinations to be in English.  She also was opposed to creating a searchable website database for taxpayers to learn about the state budget.  Julie had no interest in defining a person either.  Julie wasn’t all bad for Montana though, after all, there were 7 legislators who voted to spend more than she did (out of 100).

So best wishes to Austin Knudsen who apparently, with his vicious campaign well-funded by special interests, stole the election with his dirty tactics.  That is what democrats say about all campaigns after they are beaten fair and square.  It appears that District 36 voters moved decidedly right like the rest of the state.  Teresa and Robert Jensen will have to enlist the help of the purple-shirted thugs next time.