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House District 11 candidates talk issues

Four office-seekers are vying for the opportunity to represent House District 11. The three Republican candidates are J. Garth Cox, Josh D. King and incumbent Janna Taylor. Cheryl Wolfe is the Green Party candidate.

Cox, King, Taylor and Wolfe all were asked the top three issues they felt should be addressed by the 2011 Montana State Legislature and how should those issues be resolved.    

One of King’s top three issues is the recent years of continued unchecked growth in state government and with the recent examples of state governments lack of proper spending and controls on waste, i.e. how many vehicles are in the state’s fleet? And what’s the cost to Montana? King said with the current state of the economy, many Montanans have had to make a cut to their household budget and live within their means, so should state government.

“Maybe a bigger issue is to see that both parties are working together to bring about bipartisan ways to improve state government, to work for all Montanans. At the end of the day, we are more than Republicans and Democrats; we are neighbors, family and friends …” 

Medical marijuana is also an issue for King. 

“With the original intent for medical reasons, we have let this balloon out of control. We need to have a single source for the supplying of marijuana, controlled by a private company or state government, regulated and taxed, and have a process to determine what qualifies as medical reasons for medical marijuana.”

“Sorry to say,” King continued, “I’m the first to speak out at adding more government to our lives, but we have lost control of this as a people.”

King also spoke out on property taxes, saying the legislature needs to make sure this next session “we don’t leave a greater burden on property owners to pay an unfair rate that’s not even across the board.”

By revisiting the property reappraisal formula and starting to use more state resources taxes, King said the legislature could relieve some of the tax burden on property owners.  

Cox said he believes the Montana legislature will have to address the budget deficit and “do it during the early part of the session, rather than delay and then hurriedly pass a bill in order to allow the session to end.” By looking at all area of government, legislators will wee where cuts can be made.

“(Montana) cannot continue to be a welfare state that funds services to bail people out of poor decisions they have made,” Cox added.

Property tax relief must be a major issue early in the session, Cox said, since a bill passed the last day of the 2009 session unfairly imposed taxes on those least able to pay and gave breaks to those who took exceptions to tax rules. Cox said a review of property valuation would help many Montanans, Cox said. He added that the mitigation bill passed last session would cause property taxes to escalate over time. 

Another issue Cox thinks is imperative is keeping the best and brightest in the state of Montana. 

“Montana has some of the best minds and qualified people in the United State,” Cox said. “But they must leave Montana in order to earn better wages.”

With many of the major industries that made Montana prosper in the past disappearing, Cox said Montana must attract new technology and businesses that will provide good paying jobs and secure our future.

As for issues she’s concerned about, Taylor said she currently serves on the Legislative Finance Committee, and the revenue estimates indicate that Montana will have major funding problems. Corporate tax revenues are way down as is individual income tax, Taylor said, adding that even if the economy recovers, tax revenues lag at least a year behind. The state shortfall may be as high as $400 or $500 million, according to Taylor.

“We must reduce state spending,” Taylor said. “First we have to reduce the Helena bureaucracy and make our state more efficient.”

Taylor also said Montana’s property tax system is broken. The 1972 constitution had some very positive requirements like our revenue estimate has to match the proposed budget — that keeps us out of debt. But the requirement to appraise property on a regular schedule … at fair market value in unfair. Areas legislators have been meeting for the last year, and we have several plans. Taylor said she would like to see Lake County re-appraised. Many homeowners are seeing some reductions after the informal AS-26 review. That lowers the county coffers because the Department of Revenue certified the total amount to the county. State appraisers need to use the previous numbers as a starting point. Our system pits business property against homeowners against agriculture. The legislature’s attempt to mitigate the executive’s appraisals last session did not work for our area although it did raise the homestead exemption to 47 percent by 2014.

There are many other important issues, but Taylor is concerned about Montana state rights. 

The “federal healthcare bill will cost our state, and this at a time when we have reduced revenues. Of course, federal tax dollars are our tax dollars as well.” 

Last session we passed a Montana gun rights bills that many states are copying, although the feds are bringing suit, she said. 

No Child Left Behind dictated rules that were difficult for our state, but the current administration’s Race to the Top pairs money with more rules. Montana is one of only two states with no school choice and that will be held against us when Montana tries for the Race money, Taylor explained. 

“I want Montana to decide what is right for Montana,” Taylor said.

Wolfe’s top issue is budget. 

“In these tough economic times we must use our limited resources in the most efficient manner for long-term benefit. My goal is to protect and support our most vulnerable people, children and education, small and local businesses, and prevent the wholesale sell-off of our public resources for short-term private gain,” Wolfe said.

Another important issue for Wolfe is jobs. Montana must promote jobs for the long-term benefit in the new clean energy economy.

“Our legislators must promote the education and infrastructure that will allow us new options,” she explained.

Wolfe also said, “(Montana legislators) must limit and undo the growth of corporate power, where artificially-created legal entities have more rights and more influence than natural-born human citizens.” 

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