Archive for Editorial

Sen. Carol WilliamsBy Senate Democratic Leader Carol Williams

My favorite cowboy, Gene Autry, lived by a code. In Autry’s code, a cowboy would “be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals; help people in distress; respect women, parents and his nation’s laws; and never go back on trust confided in him.”

I wish Gene Autry could have joined me for the 14-hour marathon debate on the state budget in Montana’s Senate. My colleagues from across the aisle refused to compromise and ignored Democratic attempts to restore our budget to the lean, balanced budget proposed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer months ago. While Senate Democrats offered responsible amendments to restore the extreme budget cuts passed by House Republicans, Senate Republicans instead rubber-stamped:

$45 million in cuts from K-12 education,

$32 million in cuts from higher education that will raise tuition for students 26 percent over the next two years,

$124.2 million in cuts of federal and state dollars from critical programs, eliminating food stamps, home heating assistance and health care for thousands of low income Montanans.

No heating aid for 12,000

Montana’s budget is not just about numbers. Our state budget reflects our priorities and values. Will we be gentle with our children and help those in distress, or ignore our responsibilities? These budget cuts have faces, names and lives attached.

Here is what we face: Rejected funding for the popular, voter-approved Healthy Montana Kids Program means 5,000 children will go without health care. Rejection of federal LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) funds means over 12,000 families will go without heating. Rejected federal money for family health services means over 27,000 Montana women will lose access to health care screenings and preventative care. Seniors will now go without the largely volunteer-run Meals on Wheels. Personal assistants will lose their jobs helping the elderly and those with disabilities. And hard-working Montana families will lose the food stamps they depend on.

Tax loopholes protected

I’ve been nostalgic lately — not just for singing cowboys, but for the long-held legislative tradition of working together and deliberating on a responsible budget that invests in Montanans, not special interests.

These cuts don’t have to happen. Montana’s economy is improving; our revenue estimates and record wage withholdings show that. Democrats have also proposed over $53.9 million in savings by closing tax loopholes which go largely to nonresidents and out-of-state corporations. That’s enough to fully fund the higher-education cuts and tobacco prevention, or health care for children, family services and home heating. So far, Republicans have rejected closing tax loopholes by voting against ending the trust tax advantage for wealthy individuals, against eliminating the Nevada tax dodge, against ending the corporate net-operating-loss tax break, and against eliminating corporate audit advantage. Those funds could have gone to Montanans over special interests.

There is nothing gentle or helpful about Republican cuts to an already lean budget. Gene Autry would not be proud of the Republicans in the Senate. It’s time we started living up to a real cowboy’s code.

Categories : Editorial

Sen. Kim Gillan (D-Billings)By: Sen. Kim Gillan

It’s time to focus on the future of Montana and make decisions that help, rather than hinder, our economic progress.

Republicans claim the Big Sky is falling, and as such have recently made — with little public input — a series of arbitrary cuts that will stifle our economic growth, kill jobs and reduce the resources upon which Montana schools, colleges, hospitals and other essential public services rely on. These cuts were totally unnecessary and ignore the clear signs of economic recovery. The governor submitted a balanced budget that will reinforce our economic progress and not raise or shift taxes on Montanans or small businesses. It is important to maintain the critical services that Montanans rely on.

Recently, the Legislature hosted a bipartisan jobs listening session. We heard from small businesses throughout the state stressing the value that private-public partnerships have to Montana’s economy, including the Billings’ region. For example, small businesses spoke about the incumbent work force training grant program that, on a “cost sharing” basis helps upgrade the skills of employees. Public dollars are helping Montana businesses (rural and urban) start, expand and generate jobs. The message was clear: Solid infrastructure, high-quality education and access to world-class health care are each crucial for their long-term economic success.

Some businesses that cited the importance of this partnership are in our backyard. The president of Stillwater Mining Co., whose corporate headquarters are right here in Billings, spoke out in favor of a strong public-education system. He told legislators that in order for his company to continue its success, he needed to have a deep pool of well-educated and trained employees.

These comments echoed a recent study from Georgetown University that shows 63 percent of Montana jobs will require some form of postsecondary education over the next decade. We have a duty to make decisions that equip our children to be competitive in a global work force.

The same study also predicted that by 2018, the United States would face a drought of 3 million workers who possess skills and education for the jobs of tomorrow. A small investment today will position Montana to help meet this labor-force demand, rather than seeing those jobs go overseas or to other states.

While it is critical that Montana live within its means, the logic behind Republican doomsday predictions leaves me scratching my head.

Montanans have struggled over the last two and half years. Certain industries, such as construction, experienced significant layoffs. Yet, the state fared reasonably well. According to the state Budget Office, Montana’s bank account remains in the black. A recent check showed we had a balance of $300 million. Statewide, we are recovering and fortunately, Yellowstone County economic engines are chugging along. The federal courthouse project, Signal Peak mine in Roundup and other projects will help keep our current unemployment rate at 5.4 percent, lower than the 7.1 percent state unemployment rate, and much lower than the 9.1 percent national rate.

Recent and proposed budget cuts could have many unintended economic consequences. Democrats support tightening our belts, but we have to be mindful not to strangle ourselves in the process. We pledge to work hard to make sure all Montanans can benefit from our economic recovery. We can’t afford to continue arbitrary and punitive cuts that will hurt us now and stifle our economic growth in the future.

Kim Gillan, D-Billings, Montana Senate minority whip, represents Senate District 24 in the Heights. She coordinates Montana State University Billings’ Workforce Development Program on the downtown campus.

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