House District 10 Q & A
Republican Mark Blasdel and Democrat Alex Schaeffer square off in House District 10 race
House District 10 candidates were asked the following five questions:
1. What can the Legislature do to spur economic recovery and job growth?
2. How should the Legislature address the state government worker pension shortfall, which is projected to exceed $3 billion over the next 30 years?
3. The U.S. Supreme Court gave states the choice of whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. What should Montana do and why?
4. Given that the state is projected to have a surplus, what should be the Legislature’s budgetary priorities during the next session?
5. What are the other most pressing issues facing the Legislature and why?
HOUSE DISTRICT 10
Name: Mark Blasdel
Bio: Owner and manager of Vista Linda restaurant in Somers; three-term House District 10 state representative; chairman of House taxation committee and member of education committee; Flathead High School graduate; general studies at FVCC; bachelor of arts degree in hospitality and business administration from University of Nevada, Las Vegas
1. First it starts with an attitude in Helena that shows we are open for business. We need to continue the work of the last session in regards to the 20 percent reduction in workers’ comp rates and lowering the business equipment tax. More work needs to be done with the Department of Commerce to help businesses find more avenues for working capital. Most importantly, we need to streamline regulations and reform our state’s legal environment so that government can get out of the way of our state’s entrepreneurial spirit.
2. The current pension shortfall is actually around $3.9 billion with a projection of $130 million a year needed for the next 30 years to assure its sustainability. We will have to look at using some coal tax money, one-time-only surplus dollars, and also increasing contributions as a way to make the system viable. Status quo and one-time infusions of money cannot be the only remedy and we will have to start looking at changing the system for new hires so that we do not continue down this path.
3. I believe that now is not the time to double the amount of Medicaid recipients in the state of Montana. The federal government offers to pay the full amount for three years, but then after that, the state of Montana will have a projected bill of at least $69 million a year. Even Gov. Schweitzer states that this act will bankrupt the state.
4. First we have to pay our bills from the last fire season and the governor’s veto of certain funding bills. This current fire season has estimated costs of at least $44 million with some of that being paid by current funding accounts. The Legislature will then have to pay the remainder and decide if we are going to refill these accounts for the next biennium. We will also have to pass a supplemental bill ($30+ million) for the education lawsuit that arose from the governor’s veto of HB 316. Some will be needed for the pension system and the rest needs to go back to the taxpayers in permanent tax relief.
5. The most pressing issue facing the Legislature is the current economic environment, especially here in Northwest Montana. We have to do more to help our job creators be successful. Secondly, we must fix this pension system for the long-term viability of Montana. I will also be supporting governor candidate Rick Hill’s proposal to increase oil and gas development for permanent property tax relief to fund education. Last but not least, the Legislature will possibly be taking a look at the water compact involving the state and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that could have long-term ramifications for western Montana.
Name: Alex Schaeffer
Bio: Twelfth year teaching reading at Hedges; tutor; college fellow in English with honors from Jamestown College; certified to train statewide in reading research and dissemination and works with schools statewide; born in Whitefish
1. To start, the Legislature can protect that which we already value, a hardworking Montanan. Right-to-work legislation is a failed economic policy and will be introduced in the next Legislature as the next best thing. This out-of-state voice has no place in Montana. To choose union or not remains with us, and is not for a non-person corporation to destroy. Public education is the greatest foundation for Montana. It provides opportunities for those that will outlive us. Maintaining and growing new infrastructure for business, travelers, and education is critical. Infrastructure for older Montanans in a rural state is nearly non-existent.
2. Creating a defined contribution plan as incumbents have suggested will destroy the pension. Many intelligent people have looked at this. They agree. Adjustments to the existing plan can and will create a solvent retirement system. Contributions from the general fund, the employer and the employee and even changes for new hires may all be required.
3. We are a good group of folks – us Montanans. Sky is big here, the people even bigger. So, when two Montanans a week die of a preventable illness, we better ask why. If when one of us truly deserves a hand, and if we have a hand to offer, why wouldn’t we? Incumbents voted to secede from the nation when given the opportunity. They left the feds in charge to create our exchange. As this country moves to preventative health incentives, do we ignore those who are now truly sick? Let’s find our own voice again and create Montana solutions. When a Montana life depends upon money, and we say no, we better be able to live with that decision.
4. This “surplus” was there for the last Legislature. There it sits. Our citizen Legislature is given one task: balance a budget. We expect taxes to create opportunity and returns. We want great schools. We want safe towns. We enjoy our parks. We take it for granted, but love clean water. My dad and many of you depend upon people coming here and loving this place for a short time just like we do year around. Invest in tourism. Protect water. Revitalize public lands. In Montana we value community. Why demonize teachers and state employees? We depend upon them. Begin with paying those that give us great communities. We value public schools. We actually do. Rebuild them and grow them without depending upon another local levy.
5. Who are we electing and why? This last Legislature was a rodeo absent everything but a bunch of mad bulls. True difference makers fought the dust. Meanwhile the super rich bought a voice. Our legislators carried their bills. Enough. Dream big or stay home. Be civil. Create opportunities. Find our own voice. Write our own bills. It could begin in District 10. Creating policies for a Montana beyond us is the legacy of a great Legislature. The next generation will appreciate that. Creating new economies while protecting this place we enjoyed as kids will be the greatest challenge.