By Ron VandenBoom
Energy and education topped the list of legislative
concerns Monday when Hill County's three Democratic
legislators addressed a crowd of about 50, mostly Democratic
supporters, at a forum in the Havre Holiday Village Shopping
Center Community Center.
Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, opened the presentation by
telling the crowd that the make-up of the legislature isn't
much different than it has been in previous sessions with
Republicans composing the majority.
But Jergeson was quick to point out that the complexion of
the legislature had changed because, "this session they (the
Republicans) have a governor that is probably more in tune
to their way of thinking than the previous Republican
He characterized former governor Racicot as, "A governor
who did moderate some of their coarser actions."
One of the "coarser actions" Jergeson referred to, among
other things, is Gov. Judy Martz's unwillingness to
compromise on the issue of a tax increase to help ease the
budget crunch. He also criticized the previous
administration because of tax cuts that he indicated are
responsible for the current crunch.
"They are coming face to face with what they were warned
about last session," Jergeson said.
Referring to the budget difficulties as "a revenue
hemorrhage," Jergeson asked, "how are we going to fund
Jergeson used an basic algebraic expression of A + B = C to
illustrate the point.
If A is the state contribution and B is the local
contribution and C is the size of your education program,
then if A gets smaller, B has to get larger if C is to stay
the same. Or if C gets smaller than A and B can stay the
The same formula applies to higher education where a
combination of state funding and student tuition equal
"If state funding goes down then tuition has to go up," he
Jergeson pointed to Sen. Bill Glaser's proposal to help
education by using a cigarette tax as flawed because as
cigarette smoking declines, so would revenue and the state
could find itself in the awkward position of promoting the
sale of cigarettes in order fund education.
No solution was offered by area legislators for the
expected energy crisis scheduled to hit consumers in June of
Only a few bills have been proposed that might mitigate the
expected crisis. One proposal would enter into a contract
with PP&L to provide power at a guaranteed rate for five
The bill, according to Rep. John Musgrove, D. Havre, would
be strikingly similar to regulation, but at a higher rate.
Jergeson told the crowd that PP&L has already made it clear
that any legislation that would require they provide energy
at a rate of cost plus a reasonable profit would be grounds
for a lawsuit based on a takings issue.
The consensus of opinion was that no favorable solutions to
the energy problem currently exists and consumers should
brace for rate increases that could be as high as 250-300
Musgrove told the crowd that currently budget estimates
indicate a $12-$17 million surplus facing the legislature
with still another $33 million in cuts to go before the end
of the session.
"We have very little hope is where we're going to find the
money," Musgrove said.
Montana's constitution mandates the state budget remain in
the black and a $50 million surplus is said to be needed
over the biennium to handle emergencies.
Another bill that has captured Musgrove's attention is
HB-282 that would eliminate the need to place Social
Security numbers on hunting licenses, a requirement
originally pushed by the federal government to help states
track down deadbeat dads.
The bill, Musgrove said, could jeopardize $113 mi