The race to determine the Republican nominee for House District 4 in the Flathead pits three candidates: Damon Pace, P. William "Bill" Geisse and Derek Skees in the June 8 primary election. The Missoulian sent all three a questionnaire about issues likely to be of concern to voters this year. Here are their responses, some of which may have been edited and consolidated for space:
What's your solution to the looming state budget problem?
Pace: We need to cut the state budget, and make government more efficient. I suggest utilizing technology to modernize government services. We should cut as much as possible, while keeping as many services as possible. Other states have cut back recently, and we can learn from them what's worked and what hasn't. Our schools should be the last place we cut, as education is the backbone of our economy.
Geisse: There are two possible main solutions to the budget problems - reduce spending (preferred) or raise taxes. I believe in a balanced budget and have a track record, as a Billings city councilman, of holding the line on tax increases. While on the council, there were no city tax increases and the reporter for the Billings Times credited my efforts for not having an increase during my tenure on the council.
Skees: We need to start running the state as a business. We need to switch to business accounting practices (revenue and expenses) by departments, eliminate wasted spending (like vacancy savings, baseline budgeting and anything else we find), consolidate departments and reduce as much overhead as we can. We cannot raise taxes!
Is DUI a concern, and if so, what can the Legislature do about it?
Pace: DUI is a difficult issue, as it involves both laws and morals. There are options that make consequences of DUI so harsh that people won't even think about driving drunk. But most state laws fail to solve the root problems. We need better options for getting people home. In Whitefish, we have the "Ride Guy," who provides rides for drinkers; that model could work well elsewhere. The state needs budget-neutral solutions to this problem.
Geisse: DUI is a major concern. I believe we need more severe penalties. I would support raising the second conviction to a felony, with appropriate punishment, as well as vehicle forfeiture after a second conviction, with forfeited vehicles being sold and proceeds used to support anti-drunk driving programs. In Europe, some countries revoke driver's licenses for life after one conviction. These countries have much lower DUI rates. Innocent lives must be protected better than current law provides for.
Skees: This is an executive branch failure. We have plenty of laws on the books dealing with DUI. What we need is a zero-tolerance policy on repeat offenders and strict enforcement of the penalties. Follow the law and throw the book at repeaters.
Are property taxes a concern, and if so, what can the Legislature do about it?
Pace: Property taxes are a huge concern, and people shouldn't be taxed out of their homes. Communities suffer when longtime residents are pushed out and replaced by newcomers. We should update the valuations used to establish tax rates. The "look-back" proposal is only a quick fix, and we need to revisit our antiquated and inequitable tax law. I support a constitutional amendment that protects property owners from rapidly increasing rates.
Geisse: The property tax appraisal system needs to be overhauled to make it more equitable and accurate. Appraised value should be based on most recent sale price, rather than the current system that has seen values based on comprables separated by 50 miles, or unlike properties that are used for comprables. We need to protect senior citizens from being taxed out of their homes.
Skees: I think that for too long this state has used property taxes as a way to divide the population-shrinking east against the growing west. The tax rate should closely reflect the market value of a possible sale or even better; eliminate this divisive method with a flat rate, where we all share the same burden relative to size. Expand resource-gathering industries (timber, oil and natural gas) and place this tax burden on them, as was done in the past.
Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.