By Ron VandenBoom
Antoinette (Toni) Hagener, Democratic representative from House District 90, defended her voting record Monday after her Republican opponent, Merlin Wolery, said Friday that voters should not return her to Helena now that they know how she represented agricultural and business concerns.
Wolery presented the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club Friday with a list of legislative measures that, he said, were pro business and agriculture and that Hagener voted against during the 1999 legislative session.
agener defended her record saying most of the bills Wolery used as examples were really nothing more than tax cut measures that were, in fact, tax transfers that would now have to be picked up at the community level through higher property taxes.
"I will never vote for any tax reduction that will transfer to the home owner the responsibility of making up the difference," she said. "Such bills impact local government directly and it's local government that affects the home owner and I will not support it."
Wolery cited Senate Bill (SB) 260, a measure to reduce motor vehicle fees, and SB 200, the Livestock and Business Equipment Reduction and Elimination Tax, as two examples Hagener's reduction to support bills that reduce taxes and support business.
Hagener said the bill to reduce motor vehicle fees would have, through a somewhat complex formula of tax transfers, impact local school systems by reducing their funding.
"You can't cut one person when it means another person's going to bleed," she said.
The business equipment tax also means the cost to the counties will have to be picked up somewhere else, she said.
Wolery said House Bill (HB) 15 allowed a feasibility study on the impact privatization would have on construction, maintenance, and the purchase of some goods by government agencies. The measure passed 67 to 33.
Hagener's response to the legislation was that before she would vote for privatization, it would have to be "studied very carefully." She said that many such bills come before the legislature and only a few float to the top and are approved.
A bill (SB 111) that exempts "intangible personal property" such as stocks, bonds, copyrights, patents, and "good will" passed in the House 76 to 24 with Hagener casting a no vote.
"To me the bill was very unclear," Hagener said. "I didn't feel I should vote for it unless it was made perfectly clear what the bill was referring to."
Hagener said there is always the risk that passing a bill that is not clearly defining what it will mean to people at the local level could simply transfer a tax down to the communities.
"I will never vote for that," she said.
The Employer Reference Protection Bill, SB 271, protects employers from lawsuits if they pass on job related information about a past employee to a possible future employer conducting a reference check.
Hagener again said she felt SB 271 was unclear and didn't provide the protection she thought it should.
Hagener said the reason, she believes, that so many of the organizations Wolery referred to in his Friday remarks gave her low grades was because she refuses to vote for tax cuts that are going to increase the burden on local property owners.
Groups giving Hagener low marks, according to Wolery, are: the Montana Farm Bureau, The Montana Agricultural Business Association, The Montana Stockgrowers Association, The National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
The Business and Professional Women Club and the Havre Daily News will be sponsoring a forum with Hagener and Wolery on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Holiday Village Shopping Center Community Center. The Community Center is the site of the old movie theater in the mall. The public is welcome and encouraged to come and hear the candidates.