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Letters to the Editor: Restore lost services

| April 15, 2021 12:05 AM

Restore lost services

Our state is receiving an almost $3 billion windfall from the American Rescue Plan Act. Some is designated to be spent on K-12 education, emergency rental help, pandemic unemployment benefits, COVID testing and contact tracing, and budget relief for towns, cities and tribal governments. All of this is being handled by our state legislators. The state will have about $900 million in unrestricted funds to dole out as well as the designated funds. Our Legislature only has one more month to go and an extra whopping amount of dollars to spend.

Thus far there are a lot of proposals to cut revenues with various tax cuts and tax credits. It is great that Gianforte wants to spend $350 million on increasing broadband across Montana (we rank 50th for that currently).

Why not increase revenues to sorely needed social services that were massively cut in the 2017 budget? Why not increase one-time expenses by increasing the SNAP dollars for our hungry citizens and increase child care assistance? There is so much need in our state, much from COVID-19, but also much from budget cuts in previous administrations as well as the current administration.

Republicans will say this is only for one-time spending, but why did they make tax cuts permanent? This is all being negotiated now. Contact your legislator and follow the dollars at mtleg.gov. Make sure your voice and needs are heard.

— Mary Stranahan, Arlee

Republican principles

In our nation’s long debate about how strong the federal government should be and how much power should rest with state and local governments, Republicans have been fiercely for local control.

Why then are we seeing a rash of bills from the Montana State Legislature that violate this basic conservative principle? Space allows only two examples, but there are many more.

HB200 would force local governments to engage with federal law enforcement on immigration issues; that is, it prohibits sanctuary cities. Montana, of course, does not have sanctuary cities, but our very busy Legislature felt this was a priority. A similar bill was vetoed in the past because it was thought to violate state and U.S. constitutions and because it created an unfunded mandate to local governments.

More dangerously, HB273 eliminates the public’s say in placing nuclear facilities. It would overturn a people’s initiative and put local communities at risk in a seismically active area.

These are disturbing bills, in any case, but in opposing them, it seems we should also call the Republican Party to task in its many violations of its own principle.

— Gail Trenfield, St. Ignatius

Irresponsible political influence

Does a professional, independent bureaucracy lead to better governance? The answer is yes compared to the alternative political patronage as a source of corruption, waste and the dominance of special interests.

Montana has a civil service system based upon competitive, merit-based recruitment and protections from political pressure. This system works, but our Legislature wants to change it.

House Bill 588 proposes to do away with Montana’s merit-based system by giving the governor the authority to change 10% of every department’s positions from civil service to political appointees. For example, the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has 654 full-time equivalent positions, and this bill would change 65 of them to political appointments. Current law allows one or two political positions per department. This action will politicize every government function. As we know, Gov. Gianforte already flaunts our state laws, and if this bill becomes law he will have more direct control over every department.

We all need to oppose this bill that will devastate our state government’s ability to do their job without fear of political retribution.

— Kathleen Farmer, Polson

Interesting tax incentive

The Montana Legislature is considering a good idea. House Bill 629, if passed, will provide a tax incentive to businesses that create five new jobs per year in which salary plus benefits equals at least $50,000 per year. If a business meets the criteria of number of new employees per year, their business tax will be lowered for that year.

The Montana Taxpayer Association and the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce support this bill. Montana ranks behind peer states in competitive wages; this legislation can help the state compete better in the regional job market.

More well-paid employees in the state can stimulate the economy of the state as those employees in turn support local businesses and use ancillary services. Because it’s difficult to predict the possible income generated versus the expense of operating the program, it helps to observe where such a tax incentive has been tried. In Colorado it’s been a very successful measure.

— Stephanie Brancati, Big Arm