One of my associates has a saying written on his white board that says, “So much can be accomplished when you don’t care who gets the credit.” That is the attitude I have as I head to Helena this next week. The people I have been rubbing elbows with want what is best for the state of Montana. Our goal is to make Montana “business friendly” and get things back on track.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently came out in favor of eliminating the business equipment tax. An article in the Havre Daily News (Nov. 29) made a lot out of the idea that “Schweitzer is stealing the thunder from the tea party fueled Republican resurgence.” We need to be reminded that Schweitzer was a part of the team that introduced the tax in the first place — and the tax was supposed to have a “sunset clause.” In other words, the tax was supposed to last a certain number of years and then be done away with. (Note to self. Whenever the government introduces a new tax, it is extremely difficult to get rid of that same tax.)
In meeting after meeting with business leaders, the two issues that continue to surface are: business equipment tax and worker’s compensation. The business equipment tax (I call it the taillight tax — we can ding the companies one more time as they leave the state) needs to go away, and worker’s comp needs to be overhauled. If we can see that happen in Helena, I don’t care who gets the credit.
There continues to be a wide discrepancy when it comes to the governor’s budget. I had the opportunity to attend a number of meetings in the past two weeks. From District IV Human Resources Development Council to Montana State University-Northern, Havre Day Activity to Bear Paw Development Corp. In every meeting, without exception, there was a sense of discouragement as we looked forward to the next two years. I was told in every meeting that we can look forward to “rough waters.”
Two areas in the governor’s budget that will directly affect the Hi-Line is Schweitzer’s removal of Treasure State Endowment Program funding and transferring oil and gas revenue out of the eastern counties and putting it directly into the general fund. TSEP money is dollars made available to rural areas to help cover the expense of federally mandated projects. Projects like a new sewer line or water system for some of our smaller communities. This money comes directly from the Coal Tax fund and is met with matching funds. Schweitzer would like us to believe these are “earmarks.” They are not. An earmark would be if I wanted to get money to put a drive-through in Kimber’s Border Bar in Turner, or put up a Dairy Queen in Harlem, and have Denton be the manager.
TSEP money goes to cover the cost of projects the federal government mandates. Bear Paw Development has done a study and shown that TSEP money has been used in our five county area to fund almost $17 million worth of projects. Schweitzer also wants to move $140 million in oil and gas revenue out of the eastern counties. This money would be taken from the rural areas and placed in the general fund. (Note to self. Once the rural areas send their money to Helena, you may as well kiss it good-bye.) As one of my favorite county commissioners, a Democrat, wrote, “It looks like the governor is giving us the boot.” When it comes to the budget, all I want from the governor is what every citizen in the state deserves: transparency in his reporting.
I have been encouraged to “just work with the governor” when I arrive in Helena. I have never wished anything else. But I do want to remind you, it is up to him to set the tone. Speed of the leader, speed of the team. He is our governor, and it is up to him to create the leadership DNA in Helena. Whenever I have a bad board meeting, I don’t blame the elders or the deacons. I have to look to myself first. I take a strong pro-life position, and every Fourth of July we have a “Red, White and Blue Sunday.” This in a congregation that has a majority of Democrats.
I understand the value of working with people who don’t always agree with me. Unfortunately, our governor has a tendency to draw the line in the sand. When he unveiled his budget he went out of his way to publically ridicule a senator who was present. I attended a meeting hosted by Bear Paw Development and Schweitzer made it a point to try to discredit Rep.Wendy Warburton, who was in the room at the time. (This is in no way a reflection on Bear Paw Development. The entire staff continues to be very gracious to all of the legislators from this area.) Most recently, Schweitzer made headlines by calling the legislators “the biggest boozers.” I was taught as a kid, he who yells the loudest is usually the most guilty.
I am grateful for the trust the voters of Senate District 17 have placed in me. I hope to be able to travel to Helena and make a difference for the state of Montana. While there, I have every intention of working with the governor to make our state more business friendly. Maybe I will have the opportunity to relax and have an ice cold drink with the governor. If so, I’ll make mine an O’Douls.
(Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, is a member of the Montana State Senate.)