The candidates for the seat in House District 33 in Hill County gave similar answers with different slants on three questions during a candidate forum in Havre Wednesday.
Republican Kris Hansen, chief deputy Hill County attorney, faces Democrat Jack Trethewey, a Havre firefighter and convenience store manager in Tuesday’s general election.
The two answered the same three questions during the forum, sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Bear Paw Development Corp., and moderated by Havre Daily News Publisher Martin Cody.
One question presented to the candidates dealt with problems with the state worker’s compensation fund.
Hansen responded that the cost to business — and so to consumers — is crushing the economy.
“We have to be able to be competitive,” she said.
She said if someone was having work done on their roof costing $1,000, the final cost would be $1,500 so the business could pay the worker’s compensation expenses. That is one of the reasons Montana can’t recruit businesses — they are saying they can’t afford to be here, she added.
“Worker’s compensation, I think, is going to be a very, very huge issue this time around, one that we will have to tackle along with the budget picture to be economically competitive,” Hansen said.
Trethewey said it is an ongoing problem. A committee put together by the governor a few years ago has put out some ideas, he said.
“They brought some good proposals,” Trethewey said. “It’s not going to be easy, but I think that we need to concentrate more on providing benefits to injured workers and less to … work comp administration that seems to be overpaid and overbonused.”
He added that the workers in Montana already had to bail out the fund a few years ago, with a few extra dollars coming out of everyone’s paychecks.
“We don’t want that to happen again, and we want them to be held accountable for what they have done,” Trethewey said.
When asked about how the state could better handle education funding, Hansen said the formula itself is so complicated it is difficult comprehend.
She said one priority has to be making sure teachers are paid well.
“They work hard. We need to pay our teachers well, we need to find ways to do that.”
She said higher education, including at Montana State University-Northern, creates amazing opportunities in many economic directions.
At Northern, work on energy such as biodiesel, could have national and worldwide impacts, she said.
“It could be very productive for the state and for the nation, even,” she said.
Technology also has to be current, to make sure students are technically savvy and up-to-date with the latest available advances, she said.
Trethewey said that state funding for K12 and higher education has been increasing in Montana in recent years and that needs to continue. That should happen, he said, with projections given by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in Havre Wednesday showing the state should have some money in the bank.
He said Northern is a good option for many, including its programs in the technical arena and the work it is doing on biodiesel research.
Much of the funding for the biodiesel research is coming from state programs and appropriations, he said.
“I think we need to keep funding education, pay our teachers well and to keep them so we have the brightest and the best out there,” Trethewey said.
The two were asked about concern that utilization fees for hospital and nursing home services to the elderly could be diverted for other programs. They agreed that such a diversion should not happen.
Hansen said her understanding of the question is that the utilization fees are keeping hospitals and nursing homes at the break-even point. Diverting the fees would put them below that point.
“That doesn’t sound like a workable situation for the hospitals or for someone using the hospitals,” she said.
Trethewey said senior citizens “have carried the freight for us for many years. Taking money away from them might be illegal, if not just morally wrong.”