By Tim Leeds
State Rep. Merlin Wolery, R-Rudyard, said Thursday he intends to file for re-election to House District 90.
Wolery defeated Democrat Antoinette "Toni" Hagener in her bid for re-election in 2000.
He said the biggest challenge facing the Legislature in its 2003 session will be finding ways to fund education. It's difficult to fund all of the needed programs in a state where major industries have been virtually shut down, like mining and logging, and agriculture is facing the effects of one of the worst droughts in history, he added.
Something has to be done to better fund education, Wolery said, but he's not sure having the state pick up more of the tab is the way to go.
"When I was in Helena I didn't see that mountain of money down there," he said. " Just saying the state should fund more is only saying half of the sentence. How are they going to do that?"
The state's money for education funding also comes from property taxes, Wolery said. Raising state education funding would also raise state property tax.
He said alternate sources of revenue are probably the answer. During the last session, he said, he was willing to support an increase in cigarette taxes to fund education, although he's not sure that's the best source. Another possibility would be a sales tax. Wolery said he isn't endorsing these ideas, just suggesting the possibilities be studied.
"Ideas like that need to be scrutinized and have some serious consideration," he said.
Other issues Wolery said are going to be extremely important next session include making sure the Department of Health and Human Services has enough funding to provide for people's needs, finding ways to make it easier for businesses to create jobs, and finding ways to help improve the energy situation in Montana.
"I think with the energy situation, the problem hasn't gone away. That issue is still there," he said.
Wolery said he thinks the last Legislature did a pretty good job, keeping the state solvent without increasing taxes.
"We did keep Montana in the black, and a lot of states didn't," he said.