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  Comments (2) Total Thursday Apr. 17, 2014
Optimistic New Year
Uncommon Ground
It’s a new year. Montanans are hopeful, believing that the state is on the right track.

Gov. Steve Bullock had a great first year leading Montana. Bullock proved as good at managing money as former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Schweitzer maintained eight years of the state’s biggest budget surpluses, while keeping statewide unemployment low during a national recession.

Bullock was prudent with fiscal matters and begins the second year of a four-year term with a whopping $537 million state budget surplus. That’s great news. Bullock maintained the lower statewide unemployment trend ending with a 5.2 percent jobless rate.

Bullock, like Schweitzer, also negotiated good state funding for public education.

During Schweitzer’s first year as governor, he successfully exempted $20,000 of business equipment from taxation. Schweitzer later refunded $100 million to homeowners.

In Bullock’s first year, he exempted $100,000 of business equipment from taxation in a Republican-controlled Legislature that spurred his $100 million for residential tax relief. Now 17,000 Montana small businesses are happily exempt from paying the annual tax on their means of production.

Montanans agree that the state is on the right track. Even the conservative Montana Chamber of Commerce’s poll shows 55 percent of voters indicating that the state is on the right track, while only 25 percent say wrong track.

Montana’s success is attributable to leaders like Rep. Ed Lieser, who announced that he would seek a second term representing the Whitefish area in the Legislature. Lieser proved a workhorse, spearheading an impressive amount of work.

Lieser serves on the House Tax Committee, which stewarded the small business equipment tax exemption law sponsored by Whitefish’s newly redistricted Sen. Bruce Tutvedt.

Together Lieser and Tutvedt can undertake decent policy for Whitefish, the Flathead and Montana. But leaders must refrain from the ideological purity approaches that have plagued recent Legislatures.

Bullock, Lieser and Tutvedt all supported Medicaid healthcare to below poverty level workers. These policymakers obviously saw the direct benefits to sick people, hospitals, and Montana. Medicaid offers Montana billions of federal healthcare dollars to create thousands of jobs and lets poor people go to the doctors.

Unfortunately, Speaker Mark Blasdel and the Republican-controlled Legislature were opposed to the real life healthcare needs of the poor. The GOP’s leadership had no healthcare plan and simply said no to every significant proposal of the last session.

Bullock, Lieser and Tutvedt are likely candidates to work on the bigger policy changes to come out of the next Legislature, but that’s a year away.

Nationally the political mood is dismal. Individual politicians like Sen. Jon Tester may enjoy high approvals, but Congress itself has never scored lower with voters.

Surprisingly at the end of last year, a divided Congress passed its first bipartisan deficit-cutting budget since the late 1980s. Ardent party lines divide politics, but 76 percent of Congress supported a compromise budget. Sens. Max Baucus and Tester helped avoid a repeat of the recent House-led shutdown.

Expect more political shenanigans from Washington. Congress authorized a deficit reducing spending amounts in the budget. But Congress will likely argue incessantly about the debt ceiling spending levels it just authorized in its unbalanced budget.

It’s time for Montana to help clean up the federal mess by choosing another senator like Tester to serve in Washington.

Flathead voters chose four women last November to represent its tri-cities. Councilors Pam Barberis and Jen Frandsen, Jenny Lovering, and Sandy Carlson will represent Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell respectively.

The Flathead is lucky that these new-to-politics women leaders enter the business of governing. Schweitzer traveling in Iowa said, “Maybe women can bring people together.”

The new year offers new hope to Montanans. I hope it brings more and better leaders who are willing to serve and put people first.
On 01-14-14, cs1 commented....
We need you to go away.
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