Editor's note: Leading up to Election Day, the Missoulian is publishing Q&A's with state legislative and county candidates from throughout western Montana. Today, we feature House District 92 in Missoula County.
Should the Legislature approve a water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes? What components of the deal must exist for you to support it?
It is unfortunate that such an important agreement was rushed to completion, shortly before the last legislative session met. There’s been a lot of pressure to pass this document under the threat of litigation by the tribes involved. It seems that such an important agreement should have support from all stakeholders that it affects. If it takes several years to obtain this, then we should take the time to reach a mutual consensus. In the past year, there have been several changes to the compact and I’ve yet to decide to support it or not.
Should the state provide enough additional money for the U-system, to freeze tuition for two more years for Montana students. As the Legislature did in 2013?
Our current university system acts without fiscal restraint, having no oversight by Legislature since the 1975 change in the state Constitution. Even with the tuition freeze, students have increases in fees or the elimination of services on some campuses. Nationally, there’s been a trend to lower tuition at some institutions to be competitive and to attract students. Last session, an additional $30 million was given to the system to freeze tuition. Montana State University invested in staff and services, while the University of Montana invested in more administrators with some of this funding. Enrollment rates are projected to remain flat or decline nationally due to changes in the student loan program and other economic factors. To support another infusion of cash, our institutions should be required to freeze all fees and live within their budgetary constraints. The politically appointed Board of Regents gets a failing grade for its performance in oversight.
Should the state accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid to cover all Montanans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level? If so, what type of expansion do you support? If not, why — and how will this income group afford health insurance?
I’ve met with dozens of physicians and have been unable to find one that will take new Medicaid patients. Without primary care providers, Medicaid patients would still use emergency rooms as their first stop for health care, you can imagine what this would do to waiting time for treatment in those facilities. Unfortunately, since funding for Medicaid expansion was taken from the Medicare budget, fewer physicians are taking new Medicare patients. That creates a problem for new retirees. As written, it would allow healthy college students to receive Medicaid – that is certainly not the intent of Medicaid. I believe that there is room to create a hybrid solution that will not create a budgetary morass. Work on such legislation needs to begin at the start of the session and not halfway through as happened in the 2013 session. Montanans have seen insurance premiums rise and have lost policies under the Affordable Care Act.
If Montana has a state budget surplus next year, what are your priorities for what should be done with that money? Would you return some of it to taxpayers or would you invest some in infrastructure projects?
This money is not really a surplus, but the excess taxation of working families. I would like to see the state moved to a zero-based budgeting process to prevent budgetary creep that automatically causes funding increases in departments and programs. If all government agencies including the university system were more accountable for spending, then we could return through lower taxes more money to it the citizens. I would not vote to spend any of the surpluses on other than one-time investments in infrastructure for Montana communities. The state should not be bonding with cash in the bank as we’ve already passed enough debt onto our grandchildren nationally.
Do you support additional restrictions on abortion in Montana? Should the Legislature continue to approve federal money to family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood?
No, I do not support increased restrictions to access to women’s health care in this important private decision over the reproductive choices. And yes, it is important to use federal money for family planning clinics that enable people to make good choices and prevent unwanted pregnancies. I’m proud that Planned Parenthood endorsed me for the work I did during the last legislative session.
There’s been talk about whether management of federal lands in Montana should be transferred to the state. Would you support the idea? Why or why not?
If we look at the condition of the federally managed lands in Montana, it seems like a healthy discussion to have concerning the future of management policies. A cursory examination of the issues seems to show that Eastern states fared much better from the federal government returning lands to them after they became states. What disturbs me is how dependent Montana is on the federal government for money; we recently were ranked sixth in the nation for receiving dollars from the federal treasury. So let’s have that discussion in an open public forum and see where it leads Montanans.
Do you support or oppose the legislative referendum on the November ballot that would end voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day on Tuesday? Why or why not? People now may register, and vote, up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
I had a number of phone calls and emails asking me to vote to put this on the general ballot to let the voters decide for themselves. It was obvious during the last election that some of our election officials are unable to handle the volume of same-day registration causing some people to not vote due to the extremely long lines. I think this measure would help to ensure the integrity of our election process and do not see it as a negative for the state’s citizens.
Would you support or oppose a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Montana? Why or why not?
I am neutral on this issue.