By Ron VandenBoom
House District 90 Representative Antoinette (Toni) Hagener (D-Havre) and her Republican challenger, Merlin Wolery, agree Elk farms need to stay and the inheritance tax needs to go, but they disagree on the other three initiatives that will appear on the November ballot.
Initiative 143 would prohibit the creation of any new game farms in Montana and forbid the transfer of existing licenses. The ballot measure would also place an immediate ban on all existing shooting preserves.
"It strikes too much in the face of private business," Wolery said. "If someone wants to do it, they should be allowed to do it as long as they obey all the rules and regulations."
Wolery said he believes Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not currently a problem and is just being used as a scare tactic by the Montana Wildlife Federation to get the initiative passed.
"We've (ranchers) dealt with other diseases in livestock for a long time that we do control," he said.
Hagener said she agrees and added that she dislikes it because game farming offers a possible economic alternative to those in our area who have suffered due to low grain and stock prices.
"As long as they obey the rules," she said.
Hagener, too, said she does not believe CWD to be a problem now and is sure there are ways to control it if it becomes a problem.
Hagener and Wolery also found common ground on Referendum 116 the referendum that would eliminate what remains of the Montana inheritance tax.
"It does seem like a very unfair tax," Hagener said. She said she recognizes that it could mean about a $12 million loss in state revenues. "I think it's time we got rid of it."
Wolery said that he believes the tax discriminates against people who don't have direct lineal descendants and doesn't generate that much revenue to justify keeping it around.
"It's time to repeal it," he said.
Constitutional Amendment (CA) 34, CA-35, and Legislative Referendum 115 are ballot issues about which Hagener and Wolery disagree.
Wolery favors passing CA 34 an amendment that would allow up to 25 percent of the Workman Compensation Fund to be invested in private corporate capital stock.
"The fund would make more money," Wolery said. He noted that it would have made $100 million more money over the last five years if the state had been allowed to do this earlier.
Wolery said the fund would be regulated by the State Board of Investments, using recognized standards of financial management. He said he saw little danger of losing any money.
Hagener, on the other hand, said she sees such investments as risky. She said a similar bill was offered several years ago that would have only allowed 15 percent to be invested.
"The voters rejected the idea," Hagener said.
A constitutional amendment to create a trust fund using a minimum of 40 percent of the tobacco settlement funds earmarked for Montana also has the candidates disagreeing.
Hagener said she is "very much in favor of it," while Wolery said he is against creating a trust for the money.
"I am not against using the money for tobacco related health care issues," Wolery said. "But I guess I still believe there are some honest politicians out there."
Hagener said she fears what might happen to the money if it is placed in the general fund.
"I remember all of the different uses people were coming up with for the use of the money at the end of the last session," she said.
Referendum 115, also known as the flat vehicle tax initiative, is opposed by Hagener and favored by Wolery.
Hagener said the $5.5 million in lost revenue will, through a somewhat complex formula, have an adverse impact on school districts. She also said the overall savings to the car owner is not going to be as great as many people think it is.
"I would oppose it, unless there is some kind of an amendment for long-term re-embursement to the schools," Hagener said.
Wolery said the vehicle tax is something he will support.
"The referendum is pretty much revenue neutral," Wolery said. "It gives car owners a break on their fees and repeals the sales tax on new cars. I think it's a pretty good idea."