State Sen. Bruce Tutvedt doesn’t have to vigorously campaign for re-election in Senate District 3, largely because his opponent is not campaigning, but Tutvedt is more than willing to share his positions and outlook for the next Legislature.
Democratic challenger Shannon Hanson has raised no money and spent no money on the race, nor has he participated in candidate forums.
Hanson said he is on the ballot to provide voters a choice, but he doesn’t think a Democrat can win in Senate District 3.
“It would have to be a very conservative Democrat,” he said. “I’m liberal. I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal.”
To make his point, Hanson said he supports the federal Affordable Care Act.
“I fully support Obamacare,” he said. “I think it’s a crime the way we treat people without health care. I think the entire law should be kept and there are certain other things that need to be done with health care reform.”
The most important state issue, he said, is for the Legislature to deliver some form of property tax reform.
Tutvedt predicts that Republicans will roll out at least 40 bills aimed at improving jobs and the economy.
“We will have a significant number of jobs bills ready to roll out on day one,” he said.
Tutvedt cited as examples plans for further reducing workers’ compensation rates and the business equipment tax, regulatory reforms for the Montana Environmental Policy Act and the reintroduction of a series of tort reform bills, most of which were vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the last legislative session.
He predicts Republican proposals will contrast with proposals from Democratic lawmakers. In the last session, a Democrat introduced a little-known bill that would have raised the state income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 11 percent.
“It died quick and dirty in my committee. That’s why no one heard about it,” said Tutvedt, who chairs the Senate Taxation Committee.
He said there will be a tug-of-war over how to address the state’s $3.4 billion public employee retirement fund liability and what to do with a general fund surplus that’s around $457 million.
The pension funds liability will be a priority for Republicans, he said.
“This is a big problem that needs to be addressed,” said Tutvedt, who said he believes Republicans will entertain the idea of using some of the surplus to direct toward the pension liabilities.
But GOP lawmakers will be looking for structural changes in the programs, such as going to a “defined contribution” system where employers and new employees can contribute.
State workers have gone four years without a raise and that will come into play in the debate about the pension liabilities, he said.
“They need a raise but they need to negotiate in good faith on this retirement thing,” he said.
Another big push for Republicans will be in the regulatory realm — making the state a better place to do business, particularly when it comes to natural resource development.
The Legislature can have an influence, but Tutvedt said believes that Republican Rick Hill needs to win the governor’s office to transform the regulatory environment.
“We need an executive with a new attitude,” he said.
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.