By Michael Noyes
Government is now the largest employment sector in the state.
Government surpassed the Trade, Transportation, and Utilities category in final January numbers, according to statistics on hours and earnings from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s a frightening trend,” said state Senator Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, who serves as chair of the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee. “Montana’s private sector has been overburdened with government for a long time.”
Collections of the lodging tax in Montana for 2009 were down eight percent over the previous year, according to Barb Sanem, of the Montana Office of Tourism of the Department of Commerce.
Taxes collected were $16,879,699 compared to record collections of $18,331,051 in 2008, which was two percent over collections in 2007.
Whether the decline in corporate income tax revenues in Montana is a trend, has become a subject of some controversy between Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the State’s Principal Fiscal Analyst, Terry Johnson.
Following a report by Michael Noyes of the Montana Policy Institute that according to Johnson the “The state’s share of corporate income tax revenue has dropped by historic proportions in the past year,”, the Governor announced that the state had the highest corporate tax payment for the month of March of any March in a decade.
The Governor announced that because of the high corporate tax revenues in March, he was going to release local government funds that he had been withholding in case they were needed to help balance the budget.
By Phil Drake
A woman who quit her state job in 2003 shortly after receiving disciplinary warnings and then rehired to the same position in 2006 is suing the state of Montana for then firing her in April, claiming state officials pressured her to break the law in the way nurses are certified.
Barbara K. Swehla claims she was fired as executive director of the Board of Nursing because she fought her supervisors from the Department of Labor and Industry who improperly certified nurses and for challenging DOL policies, contrary to her board's regulations.
She is suing for wrongful discharge, humiliation and damage to reputation.
By Phil Drake
A meeting to chart out Montana's legislative geography and political future for the next 10 years kicked off Thursday night, with many of the people asking Districting and Apportionment commissioners to not split their communities into different legislative districts and to leave them "whole."
During a 2 ½-hour meeting at the Capitol building, the nearly 50 people in Helena and another 30 people watching over a videoconference cable cast from Havre and Great Falls also urged the commissioners to take politics out of the equation and to follow the mantra of "one person, one vote."
Every 10 years, the bipartisan five-member commission draws new boundaries for legislative district to reflect population changes and maintain voting rights for minorities. The changes to the state's 100 House and 50 Senate districts -one of which is 17,438 square miles - are to be brought before the state Legislature in 2013 and will not be in place until the 2014 elections.
Officials said Montana is not expected to regain a second U.S. House of Representatives seat after the 2010 Census.
Historically, districting has been used as a tool to give a party a political advantage as it lays the foundation of how people are going to be elected. Montana is one of 13 states that use a commission to do redistricting plans. In most states, the legislature takes on that task. Jim Regnier, the presiding officer of the commission, told the audience the meeting was to gather public comment and to give everyone the opportunity to participate in the redistricting process.
Thursday was the first in a series of hearings the commission will have before drawing up new district borders. Other meetings will be held throughout 2012.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, speaking from Havre via a television screen, asked commissioners to keep "communities of interest" whole and not divide them into different legislative districts.
"It makes sense that Havre not be split as a community," she said.
Dennis Taylor, a former city manager of four Montana cities, echoed those comments.
He urged commissioners that whenever possible they should include cities in a single distr
ict. He said even though he lives seven blocks from the Capitol, his representative is from Clancy and his state senator is from Cardwell.
"I've always considered myself with the city of Helena," he said.
Some lawmakers asked commissioners to redraw their districts. One of them was Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, who said his district spans six counties. "I've worked hard for five years to represent my district," he said. "It's impossible." He said some cities are so far away that he gets to them only two to three times a year. He said one reason he is running unopposed for reelection is that potential challengers also realize the district is extremely large.
Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, told commissioners he would rather "have fair districts for people rather than fair districts for parties." During a break in the meeting, Greenwood said that move would help the GOP.
"We don't need a biased playing field," he said. "Give us a level playing field and our ideas will win."
But the present layout of the districts was defended by a couple people. One was Don Judge, a candidate for seat for House District 80, and the other was Joe Lamson, a districting commissioner. "Since the last redistricting we have not had a majority in the House," Judge said. "How can we say there's political gerrymandering going on? No one will have a supermajority in the upcoming House or Senate." Lamson told audience members the commission is going over some of the same problems it faced 10 years ago. He said Havre wanted to be split into separate districts, and some of the Indian tribes wanted to be combined into one district. "This last plan was fair to a fault," he said.
In 2007, a Montana State University-Billings professor released a report stating Democrats gave themselves an advantage last time when they set districts after the 2000 Census.
In April 2009, Lamson and Pat Smith were named by Democratic legislative leaders to the commission and Linda Vaughey and Jon Bennion were appointed by Republicans. The four commissioners could not settle on a chairman. The state Supreme Court selected Regnier, a former Supreme Court justice, to fill the spot.
April 12 - 6:30 p.m. in Missoula, at the University of Montana Gallagher Business Building, Room 104, corner of Arthur and Eddy avenues. In Kalispell, thepublic can participate via videoconference at Flathead Valley Community College, Room LC-120, 777 Grandview Drive
April 19 - There will be a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. in Billings, in the first floor conference room, 214 N. Broadway. In Miles City, thepublic can participate via videoconference link at Miles Community College, Room 313, 2715 Dickenson St.
April 27 - This meeting has been postponed and will be set for another date.
The Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) and the Montana Taxpayers Association (MONTAX) remain committed to move forward with their class action lawsuit against the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) regarding improper implementation of the assessment of agricultural land. Monday was the deadline for the DOR to respond to the lawsuit filed in the Montana Fourteenth Judicial District Court in Meagher County. The lawsuit was filed as a result of the MFBF and MONTAX asserting that the DOR incorrectly calculated phase-in amounts for agricultural properties statewide and then failed to take action to fix the problem. Valuation changes due to the reappraisal are required to be phased-in over a six-year period under Montana statute. However, under this new cycle nearly the entire change in valuation was assessed to taxpayers in the first year.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103