Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Montana’s freshman senator, Democrat Jon Tester from Big Sandy, said Thursday that the next few weeks in Washington will be busy, with the transition to a new administration and the heavy job of turning around the economy top on the list of activities. Tester said in a telephone press conference from Washington, D.C., that the economy is in dire straits, with high unemployment, retail sales down and the mortgage situation peaking with the home industry in its highest rate of foreclosure in recent decades. He said the solution, in his mind, is rebuilding the economy through investments in infrastructure. “The answer is to rebuild the economy from the ground up,” he said. Tester, who was one of 24 senators who voted against the investment industry bailout bill last fall, Thursday also voted against releasing the second half of the $700 billion bailout. The bill, stopping a move to block the release of the $350 billion to help the banking and investment industries, passed the Senate 52-42. “I’m still very torn on this issue,” Tester said, adding that he still wants the money to go to jobs and not the banking and investment industry. Tester also spoke about the automobile industry’s search for bailout funds Congress denied a new bailout package at the end of last year and President Bush awarded part of the first bailout package, known by the acronym TARP, to that industry. He said he expects the auto manufacturers to be back for more help, and is waiting to see whether they will be able to get back on their own feet Tester said all auto manufacturers are having problems now, and the American businesses need to get to the cutting edge of the automotive industry. Tester again said he thinks the way to solve industry’s problems is by working from the ground up. “If you build the infrastructure the jobs will follow,” Tester said. He said he wants to concentrate on projects like energy programs and transmission systems, Water projects, bridge and highway projects and investing in workforce development and increasing investments in health care and education. He also has been active in talking with the nominees for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated Tuesday. Tester has been on the confirmation hearings for some of those nominees in his committees, including the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the nominee for secretary of Homeland Security, testified Thursday. “This is hot off the press ,” Tester said at the start of the press conference. “She agreed to come up to our state and look firsthand (at our special needs and situation).” Tester has also invited Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Eric Shinseki and Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar to come to Montana, an invitation they have accepted. He said those visits and an emphasis on improving the nation’s investment in infrastructure will also impact issues facing north-central Montana in which he and the rest of the Montana congressional delegation have played a key part, such as the push to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse north of Canada to a 24-hour commercial port, construction of the Rocky Boy’s-North Central Montana Regional Water System and the rehabilitation of the St. Mary Diversion irrigation system. Tester said Napolitano’s visit could help the push to upgrade Wild Horse’s status. The port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby is now the only 24-hour commercial port from Montana into the Canadian province of Alberta. It could illustrate to Napolitano, outside of his pending bill to upgrade the port, the needs for upgrading the port and its benefit to both security and trade, Tester said. He said he will continue to push for the passage of his bill directing Homeland Security to upgrade the port, which he sponsored in 2007. “We’ll be continuing to bang the drum, so to speak, and move forward,” Tester said. He said he can’t say at this point what funding will be like for services like Amtrak or for the regional water system, which has been funded far below its requests for the last several years, or for the St. Mary rehabilitation. The regional water system, which was created as part of the water compact negotiated with Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, would provide water treated from Tiber Reservoir to some 30,000 people on the reservation and off the reservation, including Havre, Big Sandy, the North Havre Water District and the Hill County Water District. The St. Mary Diversion, construction of which began more than 100 years ago, diverts water to the Milk River. Originally planned as an irrigation system, it also provides much of the water for household use and recreation from Havre east to where the Milk River flows into the Missouri River. He said he is working to show how important Amtrak is for transportation in rural areas like northern Montana, and also will work to fund the water projects. He said he can’t guarantee how much the economic stimulus package now working through Congress would give to those projects. “This package is not going to fix everything,” Tester said.