Thursday short takes: state budget, Daines, Zinke, and Arntzen

Photo by Don Pogreba

Special session?

Dire budget news out of the governor’s office: state agencies need to cut spending by another 10 percent. This is on top of July’s $70 million in budget cuts.

Some of the blame rests with our horrendous fire season. The state took half the firefighting fund, about $30 million, earlier this summer to patch holes in other state budgets. Since the firefighting fund will run out at the end of this week, these other agencies’ budgets will be raided to cover continued firefighting costs.

Blame can also be placed on unrealistic revenue estimates and the fact that the legislature wouldn’t allow any new or increased taxes. Sen. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula) sums it up:

Of course the situation wouldn’t be nearly as bad if the Republican majority in the legislature had approved some – at least one! – of the tax measures the governor proposed to raise revenue. But that never happened. Republicans even voted down a bill I proposed that would have stopped multinational corporations from hiding their Montana taxable income in foreign tax havens. I guess in their relentless effort to shrink government, they can even stomach blatant tax avoidance.

But it’s not too late. If there are enough Republicans who believe enough in what government does to join with Democrats, we can call a special session, go back to Helena, and raise a little revenue. Maybe not enough to stop all the cuts, but at least enough to stop the worst of them.

Those who will suffer from the cuts will be the most vulnerable: elderly, people with disabilities, children in foster care and special education kids.

As to finding moderate Republicans willing to hold a special session to address budget shortfalls, well, good luck — they’re rarer than a white buffalo.

One of the areas that won’t see any cuts is the salaries of elected officials. Sorry guys and gals, but if everyone else is going to feel some pain, you should, too.

Dangerous Daines 

Sen. Steve Daines’ rhetoric on Montana’s wildfires is heating up. While touring the fires last week with Rep. Greg Gianforte and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the three laid the blame on “environmental extremists” filing anti-logging lawsuits.

In an email today, he’s upping the ante. “Radical environmentalists” are “defying decency and common sense” for threatening to sue the Forest Service unless it reviews a logging project in critical lynx habitat. And he’s blaming “an activist court” for aiding and abetting these radicals.

A more reasoned approach to managing wildfires was advanced by former Montana Wilderness Association president Joseph Scalia:

Years of fire exclusion is the main culprit behind current catastrophic wildfire activity. Drought and heat play a big part. Years of fire suppression have resulted in accumulations of woody fuels that, once ignited, no longer can be extinguished during the hot summer. There is a complex interplay of many factors. Thinning and logging may or may not reduce the occurrence of wildfire: consider that heavily logged British Columbia is burning up now, one wildfire burning there being 80 miles long. “Radical environmentalists” have not stopped the logging in British Columbia and yet big fires still burn.

The entire letter, including sensible forest management tools, can be found here.

Daines closes his missive with this polling question:

 Quite the rhetorical device. His entire email to me is below the fold.

A pair to draw to: Zinke and the NRA

Backed by the National Rifle Association, the SHARE Act (Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement) is headed to Congress. It’s described by Wilderness Watch as “a thinly disguised measure to gut the 1964 Wilderness Act.”

The SHARE Act would allow endless, extensive habitat manipulations in Wilderness under the guise of “wildlife conservation” and for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. The Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads in protected Wilderness areas to facilitate such uses and would allow the construction of dams, buildings, or other structures within Wildernesses.

Now I have no problem with folks hunting and fishing in wilderness areas, that’s part of what they’re about, but that doesn’t seem to be the intent of this act. And where does Zinke’s Department of the Interior fit in?

The analysis corresponds with a leaked memo McClatchy obtained and reported on last week ( that found the Trump Administration has so far prevented the National Park Service from voicing its serious concerns over the National Rifle Association (NRA)-backed SHARE Act. When the Park Service shared such concerns in a memo to the Department of Interior (DOI), the DOI responded by crossing out the Park Service’s comments, and the agency was told not to go to Congress.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Arntzen to fix what isn’t broken

The venerable Montana Teacher of the Year program has been going on for 22 years. Through the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, public school educators are nominated for the award. At an educator’s conference in October, one teacher will be selected and will be in the running for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen wants to take over the program. From MEA/MFT:

Elections have consequences.  This is one of them.  Small perhaps but indicative of how Elsie looks upon her role as our superintendent.  She will take the best of what other folks have been doing such as the Montana Teacher of the Year Program and make them her own where she can stand at the front of the room and pretend to be the teacher leader she is not . . . or inexplicably trash them as she did Graduation Matters.

Here’s the story, and here’s the close to the piece:

October 19, Hilton Garden Inn, Missoula, in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference, the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation will present what may well be its last Montana Teacher of the Year Celebration.


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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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