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Incumbent faces fellow Chouteau County farmer

 

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The race for Senate District 45 is between two Chouteau County farmers this year.

Incumbent Democrat Jon Tester, who has a certified organic farm west of Big Sandy, is facing Republican Roy Hollandsworth, who farms in the northwestern corner of the county.

Both said the biggest issue facing the 2003 Legislature will be balancing the budget. The state is facing a deficit estimated to be from $250 million to $350 million.

Hollandsworth said the budget will have to be balanced through budget cuts.

"Obviously, raising taxes I don't think's going to be an option, the way the economy is," he said.

Tester said his main question is what the long-term impacts of budget cuts will be.

"Are we going to be costing the state more money next biennium by making cuts now? Are the cost savings we make this session really cost savings?" he asked.

Cuts in some programs will cost extra because the state will lose federal matching money, and others will increase costs in areas like prisons, he said.

Both candidates are third-generation farmers on farms their grandparents started.

Tester farms the land his mother's father first farmed. He started converting it to an organic operation in 1987, and it was certified organic in 1992.

A graduate of Big Sandy High School, Tester received a bachelor's degree in music from the College of Great Falls, now the University of Great Falls.

A fan of watching and playing athletics, especially basketball and baseball, Tester said he likes traveling and seeing new things, especially with his family.

"But we've just come off of three pretty bad years of drought. There's not been much money for vacations of consequence," he said.

A one-term member of the Senate, some of the committees Tester has served on are the Senate committees on rules, finance, fish and game, and agriculture, livestock and irrigation. He served on joint subcommittees for long-range planning and information technology.

Hollandsworth farms land his grandfather homesteaded near the border of Liberty County. A graduate of Conrad High School, he returned to the farm after spending two years at Montana State University in Bozeman, majoring in mechanical engineering.

He said his hobbies are kind of unconventional for north-central Montana, including snow skiing, golf, flying, scuba diving, and his newest hobby sailing on Flathead Lake. The peace and quiet of sailing is what attracts him to that, he added.

"That has added five years onto my life," he said.

Hollandsworth, who is part-owner of a farm equipment dealership in Conrad, has served on several boards, including the Tiber water board and grain elevator boards.

"You know how boards are. You just do it because nobody else wants to," he joked.

His business experience is his main qualification, he said.

"Like one guy pointed out, if you're still farming after 35 years, you must be doing something right," he said.

The Legislature will be able to find savings to balance the budget, Hollandsworth said.

"In government, there is waste there. If we try, we can cut a lot and it's going to hurt," he said. "Cutting money from government is like taking drugs from a drug addict. They don't like that."

But, he said, he wouldn't be able to say what should be cut before the Legislature meets.

"You have to go down and see for yourself," he said.

Tester said the impacts of whatever cuts are made have to be carefully evaluated. With federal matching funds in some programs, cutting $100,000 in state funds might equate to cutting $200,000 or $300,000, he said.

Along with matching funds, cutting other areas like the Department of Public Health and Human Services could have other impacts, he said.

"That particular area, as in education, we have to make sure if we make cuts what the ramifications are," he said.

Cutting treatment or support in some areas could result in more people ending up in corrections facilities, which costs more than prevention, Tester said.

There are strong arguments that the state should increase its support for K-12 and higher education, Tester said. That would reduce the local property tax burden and the cost in tuition for Montana college students, he said.

The claims legislators have made over the last four years that they haven't raised taxes is not true, Tester said. The burden has been shifted to local government, he said.

"To say we haven't had tax increases in the last two years is ridiculous," he said.

Funding programs like education on a state level provides a much broader tax base, Tester added. That results in fewer people being unfairly taxed.

Tax equity is something that needs to be looked at during the next session, he said, but won't be easy to achieve.

"It's good verbiage, but damn hard to do," Tester said.

Hollandsworth said education has to prove it has a serious problem.

"Education says they are losing money but if you look at the money spent on them they get an increase every year. It's not as much as they want, but they do get an increase," he said. "I don't think the crisis is there, but how do I know that without being there to look it over."

He is concerned about the cuts that were made over the summer to eliminate a $57 million state budget deficit, but it had to be done, Hollandsworth said.

"The fact is, if we have to make budget cuts, something will be cut and that's just a fact of life," he said. "When the government doesn't have the money, it's tough on everybody."

The state probably cannot balance the budget through budget cuts alone without seriously impacting education, corrections and DPHHS, Tester said. Some kinds of taxes will probably have to be looked at, he said.

"They need to be on the table so we can discuss them, what they would harm, what revenue they could generate," he said. "We need to make sure all tax programs are on the table. We need to look at them all seriously."

Hollandsworth said he would only be in favor of taxes to reduce or eliminate other taxes. He supports a sales tax to do this, he said, especially if it reduced property taxes.

He does not support Gov. Judy Martz's tourist tax, which she proposes to offset income tax cuts, Hollandsworth said. Targeting one group of people is a Band-Aid effect, he added.

While Tester supports eventually looking at cutting some taxes, like the capital gains tax, he said he doesn't support Martz's tax. He is a member of the income tax reduction committee, and said the tax cut would mostly benefit the wealthy.

"In a time of a $300 million deficit, that's not what we should be doing," he said.

Tester said he thinks cuts can be made in the bureaucracy.

One is the governor's Office of Economic Development, Tester said. The state should be trying to increase economic development, but it already had the Department of Commerce to do that.

The state should try to lower the barriers to using natural resources as a way to increase income and revenue, Hollandsworth said. With modern technology and all of the watchdog groups, people could be doing more mining and logging without destroying the environment, he said.

 
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