Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Havre pharmacist Kyle Austin, Republican candidate for the seat in Montana House District 33, said there are several issues in which he wants to work to help Montanans if elected to the state Legislature on Nov. 4. Those include trying to limit health care costs, implementing a Montana origin label to market Montana agricultural produce, and lowering property taxes by limiting state expenses all while keeping in close touch with voters on the Hi-Line. “Not only letting them know what is going on, but asking for their input,” Austin said. “After all, I am representing them, not myself.” Austin, a Havre High School graduate and alumnus of Montana State University-Northern who received his doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Montana in 2006, faces incumbent Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre in the general election. One issue Austin has campaigned on is his intention to help the Montana education system, including by making sure more money gets to the local schools rather than being eaten up by bureaucracy. He said in an interview this week that his stance is a contrast with Bergren. “I think the voting record for my opponent is clear that he opposes funding education,” Austin said. Austin listed two education bills Bergren voted against in the 2007 regular session as evidence. The bills, sponsored by then-House Majority Leader Mike Lange, R-Billings, proposed a $500 tuition cut for Montana resident college students and provided property tax Relief while increasing direct state aid to schools. Bergren said he has always supported funding education he said he voted for one of the largest increases in K-12 education in recent history but the specifics of those particular bills made him vote against them. The college tuition bill had two major problems, Bergren said. One was that the Legislature cannot mandate a tuition decrease while the bill would have given the university system $60 million dollars, it would have been up to the system where they used it, Bergren said. The other was that it was fiscally irresponsible, Bergren said there was no funding mechanism for the bill, it just said give the money to the universities. Bergren said the other bill addressing property taxes and state aid to education was also fiscally irresponsible, and ended up decreasing aid to the schools. In the fiscal analysis of the bill by the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning, a technical note states that while the title of that bill indicates that direct state aid is increased, the bill actually decreases direct state aid from 44. 7 percent to 40 percent. Other issues Austin said he would push for if elected include trying to rein in health care costs. “I think individuals think that health care is expensive, and it will be expensive no matter what, but there are some things we can do to put health care costs into reality,” he said. Austin added that health insurance companies have maximum amounts they will pay for medical procedures some medical providers limit their charges to that amount while some don’t, he said and the state should mandate that health providers cannot charge more than that maximum. That will ensure that all people seeking health care, whether they have health insurance or not, have a level playing field, he said. “I do not want socialized medicine, but there are some interventions we can take,” Austin said. “We can give the uninsured the same benefit the insured have, the maximum allowable expense.” Austin said he wants to push to lower the local property taxes, which he said can be done by reducing the budget on the state level to pass on to local taxpayers. “We need to control the state expenses and cut the fat even more,” Austin said. Another way to improve the budget while helping the economy would be to take on projects to generate revenue, he said. For example, using solar energy to power buildings or opening public land to create wind power generation could allow the state to share in the revenue from those projects, he said. “Renewable energy is a good investment and generates a good return,” Austin said. Austin also said he supports extending agricultural labeling to include labels telling that Montana-grown commodities are from Montana. “I think with the high level of quality that our producers produce we may be able to market our products worldwide for a premium price,” he said. Two other issues Austin lists as high-priority for him are protecting gun rights and contestation of wills, which he thinks should be precluded. “I think we need to set it in stone that a last will and testament is the 11th commandment and needs to be executed wordfor- word,” he said. Austin said new regulations on gun ownership are pushed forward constantly, and he wants to work to stop that. An example he gave is the requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. A permit to own a firearm should be all that is needed, he said. “Something I hope to do is go in and remove those regulations and give our citizens back more rights to keep and bear arms,” Austin said. Other issues Austin has campaigned on include working to increase industry in the Havre area such as harvesting natural resources, increasing agricultural production, attracting new manufacturers and and increasing production of renewable energy. He also has advocated elimination of the business equipment tax.