Democrat Alexander Schaeffer of Kalispell challenges Republican incumbent Mark Blasdel of Somers to represent House District 10 in the Montana Legislature.
District 10 takes in Lakeside, Somers, Lower Valley up to South Kalispell and then makes a U-shape around the edges of Kalispell to Conrad Drive east of Willow Glen and to Three Mile Drive west of Meridian. The district also covers part of the Foy’s Lake area up to Whalebone Drive to U.S. 2 West.
Schaeffer and Blasdel differ on what the state should do with the $457 budget surplus.
Blasdel said state lawmakers should approach the surplus by breaking it into ongoing revenue and one-time-only money, then take into account some existing expenses.
“We will have two supplemental bills — one to pay for forest fires of this past summer, which is estimated to be at least $24.2 million,” Blasdel said.
The second supplemental bill must pay for a school lawsuit settlement estimated at $30 million. Blasdel said the governor’s veto of certain funding bills at the end of the last session triggered the lawsuit.
“We need to remember that it was the taxpayer that overpaid to gain this surplus and work for permanent property tax, income tax, and business equipment tax relief to get the money back to the citizens who helped create it.”
Schaeffer said making money work was one of his reasons for running.
“We demand great returns from our taxes,” he said.
Schaeffer proposed investing in promoting tourism, creating training so Montanans seeking their first job or a second or third career may join the growing medical field. He advocated growing Montana’s wealth by maintaining and growing the state’s infrastructure for business and travelers.
“Lacking a vision, tax money should be returned,” Schaeffer said.
On a separate issue, tax reform and property tax relief, Schaeffer said the property tax is a problem but relying on current legislators who have done nothing is an even bigger problem.
“The arbitrary, unequal treatment of appraising property and then taxing it needs a new voice,” he said. “It needs fixed. The current approach of doing nothing fixes nothing.”
Blasdel said he will support Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill’s proposal for long-term permanent property tax relief and additional funding by using Montana’s natural resources responsibly to pay for education and infrastructure needs instead of always falling back on local property taxpayers.
Regarding Montana’s unbalanced pension funds, Blasdel said the state cannot keep asking taxpayers to bail out a failed system. He said projections put the cost of the bailout at $130 million a year for 30 years to make up the $3.5 billion deficit.
“We have to be creative in preserving the agreement that we made with former and current employees and look at increased contributions from current employees and change the system for new employees in the future,” he said.
Schaeffer said finding solutions where others find only problems “must define us.”
“Missed opportunity is the legacy of our present Legislature,” he said.
About Affordable Care Act health reform, Schaeffer said two Montanans die each week because they waited too long to see a doctor. He said any reform, local or federal, that gets people to a doctor sooner marks a beginning.
“The present Legislature sees health-care reform as a reason to secede from the country,” Schaeffer said. “Seeing a doctor is not just for those with money. Few of us have a lot of it.”
He said the Legislature missed chances to legislate how Montana defines itself when faced with federal reform. Schaeffer asks voters if they were satisfied with silence from the current Legislature or if they want their representative to at least try to solve health care problems.
“Seeing a doctor is critical to reform,” he said. “Expansion of Medicaid may be just one beginning.”
Blasdel said current projections put Medicaid expansion at $69 million or more a year in new costs to the state as the federal reimbursement goes down. With the $16 trillion dollar federal deficit, he said it’s just a matter of time before the government must reduce spending, leading to the state picking up a greater share of expansion costs.
“I do not believe it is prudent at this time to adopt such a sweeping expansion without looking at creative and efficient ways to help these patients within the current system,” Blasdel said.
As a priority issue for his candidacy, he said he wants to continue creating a better business climate by further lowering workers’ compensation and business equipment taxes to help job producers create more jobs and increase wages.
Calling House District 10 unique and beautiful, Schaeffer chose as a priority issue maintaining access to water, growing resources to enjoy it and keeping the watershed clean and healthy.
“Montana water remains in my childhood memories,” he said. “I will do whatever I can to ensure Montana water will make memories for generations to come.”
Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at email@example.com.