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House District 96 candidate Q&A: Loni Conley

House District 96 candidate Q&A: Loni Conley

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1. Do you support restructuring Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to provide more attention/revenue to non-hunting wildlife and recreation?

The primary funding source for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is hunter and angler license fees. Federally matched state funds for these programs come from federal excise tax on guns, ammunition, and fishing equipment. I don’t see a need to restructure Montana FWP or change the current funding and budget allocation of this program. Parks should remain within the FWP management; if additional funding is needed to maintain parks there are resources from the Land and Water Conservation Funds that flow through FWP.

2. How do you plan to serve in the Legislature during a pandemic? Will you wear a mask while in the Capitol? Do you think the session should be held in-person, remotely or some mix of the two?

I plan to serve in Legislature according the recommendations of public health officials, who use infection prevention knowledge, evidence-based practice and known epidemiology to make their recommendations. With Montana schools reopening, it’s too soon to know what the COVID-19 case numbers for our state will be at the beginning of 2021. Currently, I would feel most comfortable serving remotely, or hybrid remote and person, for the majority of the 2021 session. If held in person, I advocate strongly for proper social distancing and masks, knowing that bathrooms, food vendors and any narrow hallway will still be strong conduits for infection.

3. Climate change caused by human emission of fossil fuels has affected Montana, including an increase in average annual temperature and shifts in growing seasons for farmers. Should Montana offer subsidies for clean energy creation? Do you support or oppose ending tax breaks and subsidies for coal, oil and gas production?

Unfortunately, a push for cleaner energy solutions will likely only be driven by economic pressures and resources. Therefore, I support incentivizing cleaner energy producers and decreasing tax breaks and subsidies for coal, oil, and gas production. Transition to cleaner energy will not happen overnight and needs to take workforce retraining into account. We can’t reverse the climate changes already in progress due to fossil fuel usage; we can carve a better path forward to mitigate future effects.

4. The University of Montana has seen a 40% enrollment drop since 2010, and now is struck with the effects of the pandemic. What, if anything, should be done to help the university?

The University of Montana has done an excellent job of generating their own revenue and running on a lean budget. The amount of state budget allocated to our university systems has dropped significantly in the last 25 years. Given the current pandemic impacts on our university systems, and many displaced workers, now would be the time for our state to exam how to financially assist the university keep per-student costs low, programs open and tuition affordable. Our community colleges also need assistance as they provide vital workforce training, especially in the health care field.

5. What do you see as the No. 1 issue facing your constituents and how will you address it?

I see lack of attainable housing options as the No. 1 issue facing those who desire to live within Missoula County. Open rentals are overpriced and almost nonexistent right now; trust me, I’ve looked. Starting home prices are not affordable on average incomes. Montana has become a sanctuary state for the wealthy looking for coronavirus relief from metropolitan areas. Montanans laid off due to COVID-19 must choose between paying for health insurance or paying for housing; not sure how anyone would pay for either with no income. Tax base for residential owners keeps increasing while wages have remained fairly stagnant.

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