Susan Kohler Commentary: “Legislature”

Good evening. This is Susan Kohler, CEO of ; the Area Agency on Aging for Missoula and Ravalli Counties. Tonight I want to discuss what the aging network is requesting for support at the State Legislature.
Yesterday I joined colleagues from around Montana to testify before the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services about our funding needs. This was an important opportunity to let the committee know how state dollars make a difference in the lives of older Montanans.
The Area Agency on Aging Association, consisting of 10 areas across the state and their partners, are advocating for two main priorities. First is to have the label “One Time Only” removed from our $3 million statewide request for funding. This is the fourth session during which the Area Agencies on Aging have had to go to the legislature to ask for $3 million dollars, which for six years now, has been designated as “One Time Only. Why continue to get this label on critical funding that is for ongoing support of our services? The second priority is to ask for an additional $3 million for the biennium. This extra funding is needed to remove waiting lists which have cropped up due to the erosion of the original $3 million we have received for six years.
Area Agencies are the focal points for state and federal funding. We contract with senior centers, county Councils on Aging, home health organizations and other businesses to provide supportive services to older adults living in our service areas. Missoula Aging Services serves Missoula and Ravalli Counties; some of my rural peers cover anywhere from 11 to 17 counties in their service areas. We provide services to individuals regardless of income however we have to provide subsidies for those individuals who cannot pay the full amount of the services. We help older adults and those who care for them navigate the complexities of long term care services, and provide respite to those caring for an older adult with Alzheimer’s or other related dementia. We provide Meals On Wheels, homemaking services, personal care services, Medicare and Medicaid consultations, transportation and congregate meals, among others.
We also support Senior Corp programs– volunteer programs administered either directly by our agencies or partners. You may have heard of Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP. These programs address the issues of social isolation and potential depression in older adults by providing opportunities to put their skills and interests to good use. Volunteers with these programs not only feel productive, they also help meet critical community needs and deliver needed services to others.
Last year the Area Agencies on Aging network served 58,105 older adults and those who care for them in Montana. Although most are older adults, we also see their adult children seeking guidance and support for their parents. It is important to know that most families still help to support their aging parents but they don’t always live in the same town and are often juggling multiple priorities in their lives.
The Aging Network looks at funding as a partnership. State-wide, the order of support from most to least is as follows: The federal government is Number One. Second is local government, including county and, sometimes, city funding. A close third consists of program income and donations. Program income includes what older adults pay towards services they receive–some pay the full amount and others pay what they can afford. State funding is fourth. In the case of Missoula Aging Services, United Way is included in this mix, along with generous community donations of $100,000 annually to keep our Meals On Wheels program whole. We fund-raise much more than that to support other vital services, too.
Even so, under the current state funding scenario our service area already has a waiting list for homemaker and respite services, and Ravalli County currently has no resources to provide respite services for caregivers. The state is aging significantly, with the fastest growing population being 85-year-olds and over. It is no secret that older adults do better if they can remain at home. It is less expensive to provide support to them there than to prematurely place them in institutions like nursing homes.
This brings me back to the Aging Network’s two main priorities at the Legislature and what you can do to help. I invite you to advocate for Montana’s older adults by contacting the members of the Joint Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Ask them to support the removal of the One Time Only label for our current $3 million, and to increase our funding by $3 million for the next biennium. If you have questions about how to do this, contact your local area agency on aging by calling 1-800-551-3191.
Susan Kohler is the CEO of Missoula Aging Services.

Sterling Miller Commentary: “National Climate Assessment “

New records for warm weather have become frighteningly common place. Watching this trend, no thinking person can fail to become alarmed by the record-setting heat we experienced last year. In 2012, we broke the previous hottest year on record not by increments of a tenth of a degree or so as is commonly the case for such records. Last year shattered the previous record high for the United States by a whole degree. The average US temperature in the US last year was 55.3 degrees. The head of the climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center called last year “off the chart” and he said 2012 will go down as “a huge exclamation point at the end of a couple decades of warming.”
The head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research said that these records “do not occur in an unchanging climate” and pointed out that they “…are costing many billions of dollars already”. Last year was 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the entire 20th century and last July was the hottest month on record with 19 states setting yearly heat records in 2012.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also reported that 2012 came in second in the record books for the most weather extremes, which includes not only temperature records, but also drought, downpours and hurricanes that reach land. The number of such extreme events last year was exceeded only by the number in 1998. Not coincidentally, 1998 was also the year that set the previous record for the hottest year in the US. This isn’t surprising given the relationship between a hotter climate and the number of these kinds of extreme weather events.
We all remember Hurricane Sandy, but we can’t afford to forget the incredible drought we experienced this summer. That drought was the worst since the 1950s and in the US record books was exceeded only by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The recent PBS special by Ken Burns on the Dust Bowl called the Dust Bowl the worst man-made ecological disaster in US history. If you haven’t seen this Ken Burns special, you should. It is available for purchase as a DVD from PBS.org or you can wait for it to be re-broadcast. Like climate change, the Dust Bowl was a man-made disaster. We were fortunate in our political leadership during the Dust Bowl as Franklin Roosevelt didn’t ignore the problem and undertook the steps needed to address the land use practices that led to it. Climate change is a more difficult problem, as it is an international issue and requires us all to make the changes in our lifestyles to address it. It is also more difficult as political leadership of the caliber of Franklin Roosevelt is nowhere apparent.
A draft of the National Climate Assessment describing the changes that have occurred, and will occur, was issued this month and is now available for public comment. The executive summary of this report states:
“Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic seas ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity…..Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans…..U.S. temperatures will continue to rise, with the next few decades projected to see another 2⁰F to 4⁰ F of warming in most areas.”
One of the most dramatic and well-documented changes that has occurred is in the extent of decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic. Satellite photos show that the amount of ice that has disappeared is equivalent to about half of the area of the Continental US. This loss dooms not only polar bears and other arctic animals, but results in changes in weather patterns right here in Montana.
Another dramatic change is the world-wide increase in sea level of about 8 inches over the last century. The National Climate Assessment projects that sea level will rise by another 1 to 6 feet during this century. This will affect us here in Montana in many ways, including the flooding of nearly 5 million Americans who now live within four feel of the local high-tide level. These people will need somewhere to escape to and Montana will look pretty secure to them.
It is frequently said that it is too expensive to address the root causes of climate change, which is the burning of fossil fuels. However, unless we address the problem of human-caused additions of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, our burning of fossil fuels will become dwarfed by the magnitude of greenhouse gases added naturally to the atmosphere by the melting of the permafrost and loss of CO2-absorbing capacity by the world’s oceans. The costs of continuing to ignore the root causes of climate change now will seem like a bargain foregone to our children and grandchildren who will have to pay much higher costs in the future. We already saw this with the incredible damage caused by Hurricane Sandy last year where estimates of damage exceed $65 billion.
I urge you to read the National Climate Assessment, to comment on it, and to become political and personal activists to assure the future health of the planet on which human society depends.
Sterling Miller writes for the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula.

Sally Mauk’s column looks at why D.C. is scary and Helena isn’t

News Director Sally Mauk was in Washington, D.C. recently for meetings at National Public Radio headquarters, and she came back with some thoughts about why government in our nation’s capitol is a little more intimidating than government in our state capitol in Helena. And she has an idea for how to improve the lawn around the state capitol.

Click here for the full column.

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White House vegetable garden

Carl Graham Commentary: “Your government at your fingertips”

Why on earth is it easier to download descriptions of a Martian soil sample than it is to find out how much the Montana Department of Whatever spent on lawn care last year? The Montana Constitution guarantees us almost unlimited access to state financial information, but our state’s laws and technology don’t provide for that access. In effect, you have a right to know what’s being done in your name and how your tax dollars are being spent, but no practical way of finding out.

I have a lot of experience in this area. My organization has made countless records requests and even successfully sued the state for access to actual spending data. The overwhelming impression is that, while we have a right to public information, we don’t have a reasonable means of accessing it.

As our state government has increased in size and complexity, it hasn’t updated its rules or its technology to keep up with our right to know what it’s up to. Why does that matter? The harder it is for us to keep up the more likely we are to shrug and say things are just too complex for us to do anything about or for the knowledgeable few to game the system. Some folks like that. But it’s not how a participatory democracy should work. Informed citizens make informed decisions. Problem is, we simply can’t stay informed under the current setup in Montana.

It’s one thing to see a budget. That’s easy to find. But it’s quite another thing to see how that budget was executed: who got contracts, what was bought, how many people got hired, and how much was spent on any of those things? Article II Section 9 of Montana’s Constitution guarantees your right to know all that. But you don’t have a practical means of exercising that right. Sure, you can spend hours and hours surfing web sites from agency to agency and maybe track down some pieces of the puzzle. But you’re not likely to find information even as basic as what you have in your own checkbook.

Or you could make a written request to an agency or office asking for specific data. If you know where to ask, and if you ask for the right thing, and if they have a document that precisely matches your request, and if they don’t force you to travel to their office during normal business hours to make copies, you may end up happy with the result. But probably not.

And is that the best we can do in the Information Age?

I can find and buy a hydraulic cylinder for a Meyer’s sixty inch snowplow from my living room in ten minutes and with a half dozen mouse clicks. Why can’t I just as easily see how much was spent and who it went to for a snow blower the state just bought? It’s not a question of inventing something new. It’s a question of harnessing current technology in a way that makes our government more transparent and accessible. And Montana is one of only five states in the nation that hasn’t at least made an attempt to allow its citizens easy online access to their records.

This isn’t a left or right issue. U.S. PIRG, hardly a bastion of right wing ideology, released a transparency scorecard in 2012 describing state government efforts to put their spending online. Montana ranked second to last with a score of seven – that’s 07 – out of a hundred. Texas scored highest with a 98. That’s pitiful. Our state officials should be ashamed that they have failed in their basic duty to let taxpayers know how their hard earned money is being spent. And quite frankly our taxpayers should be ashamed that they haven’t demanded more accountability from their employees.

So why haven’t we done this? The only argument against putting the state checkbook online is the cost, and it’s a bogus one.

Spending websites have been done to varying degrees by the federal government and 45 states. Average implementation costs have been in the low hundreds of thousands and operating costs in the low tens of thousands of dollars across the board, with most much lower than even that. Even the federal site was only $600,000. This is a pittance compared to the benefits provided to taxpayers, legislators and even state agencies in running an accountable and transparent government.

Senator Taylor Brown has a bill draft out there that would create just such a site in Montana and bring us into the 21st century. It’s LC1316 and you should take a look at it if you think knowing where your money goes is important.

Imagine tracking a dollar out of your wallet from the time it goes into government’s coffers until it’s spent: the revenue source, appropriation, agency, program, contract, recipient, and anything else that dollar touches. That’s true transparency and openness that will let people engage with their government and hold it accountable. The technology is cheap and readily available. Almost every other state has done it. The mandate is in our state Constitution. What’s missing is the political will to make it happen. Tell your elected representatives that you want Montana’s government to be as transparent to you as you are to it.

Mary Sheehy Moe Commentary: “Missoula College: A Cinderella Story

Well, a new legislature has convened, and for the fourth straight session, Missoula’s two-year college will be pleading with legislators for a new facility. For the last decade, the facility that began as a vo-tech and was recently re-christened Missoula College of the University of Montana has been bursting at the seams. Constructed in the late ‘60s for a student body of 700, Missoula College now enrolls roughly 2500 students. The College’s programs have grown from the strictly occupational to the full array of community college offerings – workforce programs, transfer degrees, developmental coursework, dual enrollment classeses for high school students, and community outreach.

It hasn’t been easy. Like Montana’s other university system two-year colleges, Missoula College has fought the vo-tech stereotype for years – the local perception that it’s a last resort for people who – well, just aren’t “college material.” Although its tuition is much lower than the university’s, its class sizes generally much smaller, and its student-centeredness more historic, for many years Missoula College was Missoula’s best-kept higher education secret.

That’s pretty much in the past now. But unlike most of the other two-year colleges, Missoula College has had no significant facilities improvements since it was built. In 2005 and 2007, the investments the legislature made in facilities in Great Falls, Billings, and Helena gave those colleges a much-needed makeover. Now high school kids are wowed when they visit those beautiful campuses for career days or dual enrollment courses. Now businesses cite their state-of-the-art facilities as a major factor in why they choose to locate in those communities.

Not Missoula College. Like Cinderella, for over 8 years she’s had to watch her step-sisters go to the ball and hope that someday her prince will come. Enrollments at Missoula College have shown the highest and steadiest increases of the former vo-techs. Sought-after programs have waiting lists of students clamoring to get in. To provide more space, construction students have built “temporary” trailers for classrooms and faculty offices … certainly not the kind of thing that wows students or industry.

But this isn’t about cosmetics. It’s about the quality of learning – and about the quality of the degree. Twenty years ago, I taught in Helena’s two-year college in trailers they called temporary — though they’d been there for years. In the winter, my students were so cold they wore their coats in class – and so did I. Forget state-of-the-art technology. Our focus on technology was putting the right amount of snow on the thermostat to kick the heat up. That’s the kind of experience Missoula College is facing now – or soon will be.

Then there’s the splintering of the campus, with the inconvenience to faculty and students traveling all over town requires. As just one example, healthcare jobs in Montana pay extremely well for graduates with two-year degrees. All healthcare programs require science courses with labs. Not possible at Missoula College. Students and faculty traipse around town, depending on the College’s gracious partners throughout the community to provide the lab experiences they need. But it may not be enough. All healthcare programs also require professional accreditation. This hop-a-freight approach to programming threatens accreditation, and without that, students’ degrees have little value.

Space matters. This college matters. Graduates from two-year colleges find good jobs with good wages right in their communities. Other graduates lateral over to four-year colleges and because of what they’ve saved on two-year college tuition, they complete a bachelor’s degree much more affordably. Local businesses prosper by having their two-year-college provide training customized to tap their potential. Although Missoula College is attempting to do all that for the community it serves, in its present facility, the strain is taking its toll.

The price tag for a new facility for Missoula College is hefty – $47 million. Part of the reason it’s that high is that the college will be the first facility on UM’s south campus, so that price tag includes laying the infrastructure for future growth. Yeah, that’s a lot of dollars – but making the investment in Missoula College makes a lot of sense. In a legislative session where the mantra is jobs-jobs-jobs, this kind of investment will ensure jobs in Missoula and Ravalli counties, perhaps the most populous area of the state, for decades to come.
It’s time for Missoula to stop spatting about golf and get serious about the sub-par facilities of the college whose historic and continuing reason for being is serving that community and region. It’s crucially important that you people in Missoula and Ravalli counties tell your legislators to support HB 14, the bonding bill for Missoula College. And because 700 Missoula College students come from all across the state, no matter where you live in Montana, you should be telling your legislators the same thing. It’s time to get this Cinderella out of the ashes and into the 21st century.

Al Smith Commentary: “Constitutional Values: Accountability and Responsibility”

It is 2013, and, since it is an odd year, the beginning of another Montana legislative session. At times, I think that the framers purposely set up our system of the legislature meeting in odd years, to remind us that our democracy is an odd assortment of characters, issues and dramas.
Part of my job is to pay close attention to what’s happening in the legislature, alerting members of my association to legislative developments, and lobbying specific bills that harm or help Montanan’s right of access to the civil justice system. The trial lawyers’ basic lobbying position flows from our support of the basic principle that individuals, business entities and governmental entities should be accountable and responsible for their actions or omissions that cause harm to another. This principle is set forth in Article II, Section 16 of our Montana Constitution which provides that “Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and speedy remedy afforded for every injury of person, property or character.” This mirrors the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects our right to a trial by jury in civil matters.
I always thought that accountability and responsibility were values without a political leaning, being neither liberal nor conservative. Over the past few decades, however, it seems that those labeled as political conservatives have co-opted accountability and responsibility, touting them as solely politically conservative values.
I reject this political characterization, but would agree that accountability and responsibility are conservative values, conservative values that should be supported by both political liberals and political conservatives. Over the years, however, political conservatives have only selectively supported the conservative values of accountability and responsibility when it comes to the civil justice system.
Political conservatives are philosophically dedicated to individual freedom, limited government, and the protection of individual rights. The civil justice system is the embodiment of the ideals of individual rights and personal freedom.
Of all the institutions of government, only one – the judicial system – is dedicated to the individual. In court, every person is not only the equal of their neighbor, but also the equal of the largest corporation, and even the government itself. The role of the courts – and the lawyers who are absolutely necessary for their proper function – is simply to protect our legal rights – including the rights of liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, consumers and businesses.
There is a cost to protecting our individual rights. That cost is making sure that the legal rights of each of our fellow citizens is also protected, without compromise, without exception. Like an alcoholic who takes that first drink, when we start compromising the legal rights of our “less worthy” neighbors, there may be no end until finally our own rights are swept away as well.
Sometimes political conservatives point to a large verdict against a business, as if this demonstrates some problem with the system. But don’t conservatives believe that with freedom necessarily comes responsibility and accountability? If someone violates your rights shouldn’t they be held accountable, whether they are an individual, the government or a business?
And what about those awards of compensatory damages? When the government takes a person’s property to build a power line through it conservatives expect to be compensated – and compensated in full, not just in part. So what’s the difference when someone costs you an arm or a leg by failing to order appropriate medical tests? Isn’t an award of compensation in that instance just as much to compensate for your loss of property as when you lose your land or your car is wrecked?

Conservatives agree with James Madison and John Locke that our first right of property is in ourselves, and includes the safety and liberty of our person. When someone takes it from us in violation of our legal rights, compensation for what we have lost is the least that can be expected. And, if we are robbed of that which most of us take for granted, a healthy pain-free life, the same principle applies, and probably more so. It is simply unjust to shield the wrongdoer from the consequences of his misconduct at our expense.
Unfortunately, some political conservatives in the Montana legislature have already requested a number of bills that impact your access to the civil justice system. When you hear of bills that limit the liability of, or provide immunity to, government and businesses for their actions, I hope you will call your legislators and ask that they stand up for conservative values. Ask them to assure that all Montanans are able to seek accountability and responsibility through our civil justice system. Tell them that it is just plain wrong to provide special protections so that some do not have to be accountable and responsible for the harm they cause.
The protection of individual rights, by assuring that accountability and responsibility can be obtained in the civil justice system, is a conservative value that we can all support: the public, businesses, trial lawyers, the judiciary, and legislators – be they Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers or Greens. But protection of our constitutional rights comes with a price. That price is making sure everyone’s rights to a jury trial are protected.
Al Smith writes for the Montana Trial Lawyers Association.

Tom Power Commentary: “From One Manufactured Fiscal Crisis to Another”

Many of the nation’s newspaper cartoonists have done a good job of making fun of the sighs of relief we are all supposed to have breathed when Congress and the President settled the “fiscal cliff” crisis on New Year’s Day.
Given that the “fiscal cliff” was manufactured by Congress as part of a temporary fix in the earlier 2011 stalemate over raising the federal debt ceiling, it was obvious that the same fiscal crisis was going to reemerge in early 2013 when that debt ceiling would have to be raised again.
If the House Republicans cannot get their way in the upcoming repeat performance of the debt ceiling battle, they again plan a suicide-bomber-approach to fiscal policy, namely threatening to force a purposeful but completely unnecessary default by the United States on its financial obligations. Given that the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury securities are the financial securities of choice that the rest of the world uses to store its wealth, what the Republicans are threatening is nothing short of a worldwide financial collapse.
What is important to understand is that the American dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds are threatened by no one but the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Despite the fact that the Great Recession originated in the United States, as it spread around the world, investors turned to the dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds for financial security. That was the safest place in the world for them to put their money.
The U.S. Constitution is crystal clear that Congress controls the “purse strings” of the federal government. It is only Congress that can mandate federal spending and federal taxation. The President and the rest of the executive branch of the federal government constitutionally then are supposed to implement those spending and taxing mandates.
The Congressional debt ceiling, however, creates a conundrum of conflicting mandates: What is the President supposed to do when Congress orders spending levels that are not covered by mandated taxes. Given that it is Congress that sets the level of spending and the level of taxation, one would think that Congress in establishing that federal budget had quite explicitly authorized whatever deficit or surplus resulted and was also authorizing the U.S. Treasury to facilitate those Congressional spending decisions.
But Congress has added a conflicting mandate: It has ordered the Executive Branch to spend and tax in a way that creates a deficit but has also ordered the Treasury to not facilitate that spending by either expanding the money supply or borrowing money. Thus the Executive Branch has to choose which of these Congressional mandates it should violate since it cannot spend the way Congress has ordered and manage the nation’s currency and debt as Congress has ordered. The President would have to violate one Congressional mandate or another no matter what he decided to do.
Such contradictory legislation might appear to make no sense. But there is political sense to it: It is a political maneuver that seeks to cut federal spending without Congress taking responsibility for specifying what spending should be cut. That allows members of Congress to avoid going on record cutting specific popular spending programs while trying, instead, to force the President to do exactly that.
We are back to the fiscal cliff of steep government spending cuts that may undermine our slow economic recovery from the Great Recession or, alternatively, force the U.S. Treasury to default on U.S. financial obligations for the first time in the nation’s history, possibly triggering a worldwide financial panic and collapse.
What the Republicans hope to get out of holding the American and world economies hostage in this blackmail scheme is what they call “entitlement reform” but is more accurately an explicit attack on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Unemployment Compensation. The Republicans either do not have the votes or do not have the political guts to propose and pass specific reductions in these social safety net programs as well as drastic cuts in almost everyone’s favorite federal program. Given that they cannot accomplish what they want using the democratic legislative process, they have turned, again, to hostage-taking and blackmail.
This is outrageous, dangerous, and unnecessary extra-legal behavior by House Republicans. Since 1960 Congress has acted 78 times to adjust the federal debt limit to allow the U.S. Treasury to meet America’s financial obligations. Most of those adjustments of the debt ceiling were under Republican presidents although 37 percent of them were under Democratic presidents. This is routine government business that has always been approved so that the credit worthiness of the U.S. government was not in question. It should not be in question now either, but House Republicans want to purposely undermine our credit worthiness by keeping the U.S Treasury from meeting the nation’s existing financial obligations. This comes close to threatening the financial sabotage of the U.S. government and the American economy.
Enough is enough. We cannot make progress on any of our nation’s problems while stumbling from one manufactured financial crisis to another. Our economic hostage takers and blackmailers have to be legislatively disarmed so that we can get on with doing America’s business.

Doug Ferrell Commentary: “Wilderness Protection”

I want to talk a little bit today about some encouraging progress and momentum in protecting some of Montana’s precious wild country.
Actually what is especially encouraging goes way beyond how we manage wild country. It includes important progress on how we Montanans can work together on controversial issues and find ways to solve problems together.
At a time when our country is polarized and divided on so many issues, and when our congress is having great difficulty finding common ground and getting its basic work done, it is encouraging to realize that we do have the ability to tackle and solve tough problems.
So what has been happening, and how has it been done?
Right now, two pieces of legislation before congress represent important agreements made by diverse groups of Montanans, many of whom have been historical opponents on land use issues. The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, introduced by Senator Max Baucus, and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act introduced by Senator Jon Tester were both created by large, inclusive groups. These groups worked to find common ground and craft visionary agreements about better ways to manage some special areas of our public lands. Polls show both bills are supported by over 70% of Montanans, with support crossing party lines and geographical boundaries.
There are a couple of key reasons why these two efforts have been so successful so far. One is that they started with modest goals. In the case of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, ranchers, landowners, sportsmen and conservationists all agreed on a general goal of keeping this marvelous area pretty much the way it is today. The present mix of land uses supports world class wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and traditional ranching and outfitting industries. The agreement generally protects these existing land uses into the future. In the case of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which covers mostly forest land, the goal was to provide for active forest management and timber harvesting, permanent designations for motorized recreation, and wilderness protection for some of Montana’s premier wild country. These goals are modest and reasonable, and they represent a step forward from the gridlock and conflict over public land management that we have experienced for too long.
The second reason for our success is that the diverse groups committed to understanding and respecting each other’s values and goals, and then committed to actively support each other’s goals, whenever they were not in conflict with ours. Yes, we found we had a lot more in common than we thought, and we found some really great opportunities to support each other and get things done. What a great experience this has been. Along the way we have gotten a chance to meet some damn fine people.
As a wilderness advocate, I am thrilled that we now have a good chance to protect some of our remaining, magnificent wild country, in places like the Sapphires, the West Big Hole, the Snowcrest, and the Pioneer Mountains, plus additions to the Scapegoat, the Mission Mountains, and the great Bob Marshall Wilderness. These are treasured places that we hope to protect for future generations to use and enjoy in their present wild and natural condition. Now, we just hope we can get these bills through congress. Let’s get it done!
The 5000 members of the Montana Wilderness Association are proud to be part of a new day in working together to get things done. One where our treasured public lands bring us together to not only improve land management, but one where we as Montanans sit down together, find common ground, and make decisions that strengthen our communities.
I want to invite anyone hearing this message to go to the web and join MWA, and help support our work – work which is inspiring, challenging, and deeply rewarding.

Doug Ferrell is the President of the Montana Wilderness Association.

Carl Graham Commentary: “The 2013 Legislative Docket”

With the 2013 legislative session about to begin I thought it might be useful to highlight some of the important issues we could see coming out of Helena over the next few months. Montana is fairly unique in that we still enjoy a true citizen legislature and, regardless of what we may think of some them individually or even in their various groupings, our legislators represent one of the last bastions of true public service, giving much more than they get out of the of process. We should thank them for that, even the ones with whom we disagree.
So, what are they going to be talking about? Well, much of what you’re going to hear in the media between now and next April will be spectacular examples of superfluous issues because that’s what makes news. The hard work and hard issues will be left to the back pages because, well, they’re hard. They’re hard to explain, hard to understand, and hard to get people excited about. But some of these issues will drive future Montanans’ ability to live, work and play here, and they deserve more than passing references on opinion pages or superficial treatment under spectacular headlines.
So let’s look at a few of them.
State Employee Pay: Montana’s public employees are not overpaid. In fact too many of them are underpaid. But they do enjoy benefit packages and job security that our private sector workers can only dream of. This simply isn’t sustainable. At some point private sector workers will see their state employee neighbors’ immunity from the business cycle as grossly unfair, especially when they’re making sacrifices to foot the bill. This is a tinder box that will only burn hotter the longer we add fuel without significant reform, especially in the area of pensions.
Public Pensions: Montana’s pension systems are underfunded to the tune of nearly $4 billion by the state’s accounting, and by closer to $10 billion using real-world accounting standards that wouldn’t land a private sector employer in jail. The state understates this liability by assuming, for example, a 7.75% return on investment while actual returns over the latest ten year period were under 5%. Everyone’s goal is, or should be, to preserve the promises we’ve made to our pensioners. But that outcome becomes less and less likely the longer we wait to reform the system in ways that make it both sustainable and fair to Montanan’s taxpayers.
Labor Reform: It’s not likely we’ll see much in this area because a GOP-led legislature and union-backed governor aren’t likely to find common ground. But if we care about growing jobs, it would be irresponsible to not demand a debate about our labor environment in at least two areas: right to work and minimum wage. Some simple facts form the parameters. First, we are surrounded by right to work states, and they are all outperforming us economically and demographically. Second, right to work states on average have lower unemployment rates, but also lower wages than states that compel union membership and/or dues. With those simple facts as givens, the remaining arguments mostly revolve around cause and effect and “fairness” issues that are inherently political. So our political leaders should be arguing them. Next, Montana’s minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal level even though our per capita income is among the lowest in the nation. It also increases automatically even with high unemployment rates. Labor is like any other good in that if you raise its price people will buy less of it. We should have a debate over whether we would rather force people, especially the young and poorly educated, onto the public dole or allow them the dignity of earning a living through the increased job opportunities that would be available at even the federal minimum wage level.
Natural Resource Development: Economic development in Montana means responsible natural resource development. It’s what we have, and it’s sustainable because it’s unique to the state. If you want Montana oil or coal or gold or wheat or recreation, you have to pay Montanans to get them. That’s not true of portable industries that can easily relocate. So while we should welcome all industries, we should also be lowering barriers, especially those that come from Washington D.C., that restrict the responsible development of what we have here in abundance.
Education Reform: Montana’s schools are good but have seen static performance at higher per pupil costs for two decades. We’re good at teaching our kids on average, but nobody’s average. Each kid deserves to be taught in a way that maximizes his or her potential, and our current one-size-fits all system simply doesn’t allow us to optimize educational outcomes for each of our kids. We need to catch up to the true education innovators around the country by providing more delivery options that address the needs and aspirations of each student, and not just accept that they do Okay on average.
What Should Government Do vs. What Can Government Do? Finally, in times of abundance it’s easy to say government should do something because government can do something. Political philosophy aside, that simply doesn’t work when taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet and can’t afford an ever expanding state. Just because government can do something doesn’t mean that it should. Whether for fiscal or philosophical or moral reasons, we as citizens will be forced to take more responsibility for our actions, for our livelihoods, and for our happiness as the math catches up and current spending levels become unsustainable. The sooner our public servants in Helena acknowledge that fact and begin to grapple with its implications the easier their decisions will be, and the better our lives will be.

Dr. Tom Roberts Commentary: “Health vs. Health Care”

In January of this year, the Eastman Kodak Company filed for bankruptcy after 131 years of business. It’s been suggested that Kodak thought they were in the film and chemical industry, when they were really in the business of creating images. When a better way to create these images came along they hadn’t changed and so went out of business.
We’re just beginning to recognize that we have created a similar situation with the business of health. Especially in the United States, we’ve focused on providing health care. What we should be looking for though, is not more and more expensive health care. What we really want and need is our health.
If health care did in fact give us health, then it would be worth continuing our substantial and ongoing investments. What’s becoming more and more apparent though is that health care is only responsible for about 10% of our overall health status. The rest is determined not by the doctor, but by many other factors including our environment, our genetics, our social status and choices we make about lifestyle.
70% of the deaths in the United States and 75% of our medical spending is related to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and to some extent cancer. Social inequalities have been shown to be much more predictive of illness, disability and death than any amount of health care. Even developing countries are seeing a rising epidemic of chronic disease which now overshadows the old killers of acute infections and injuries. In an aging society, chronic illness becomes the overwhelming factor that determines health and drives health care spending.
Yet, our model of health care remains stuck in the early 20th century when curing acute illness in a predominantly young population was the goal of medical care. We continue to pay mainly for sick visits within our health care system. Only recently have we begun to recognize that what we really should be paying for is prevention and effective management of chronic disease. We pay very high prices to cardiologists who intervene when someone has a heart attack and yet, even now, we fail to pay or pay very poorly for systems of care that deal with the underlying causes of that heart attack.
Medical students today recognize that primary care doctors earn dramatically lower pay than specialists. They tend to work longer hours and their status is lower. It’s no wonder that less than 7% of these graduating students choose careers in primary care. Our entire system is oriented to acute interventions, after disease is already established. Even within primary care offices, we are just now at the very beginning of understanding what we need to do to effectively manage diabetes and hypertension over the long haul, much less how to effectively deal with our current epidemics of obesity, smoking, and a sedentary society. Spending on public health is less than 1% of the total medical budget. And yet we know that effective interventions at this level are the best investment for improved population health.
Meanwhile we are acutely aware that parts of our country which spend more money on the health care industry do not have healthier people. The variability in spending can be as much as 3 times higher in some areas than others, without any noticeable effect on population health or quality of life.
The only reasonable conclusion we can come to is that much of our $2.5 trillion per year spending on health care is unnecessary. It pays for very expensive medical care, much of which we don’t need. That spending instead should be redirected in ways that support prevention and health maintenance.
Yet, despite what we know, this approach comes up against powerful obstacles. Not the least of which is our own social expectations of instant cure and relief of symptoms. The newest drug or surgical intervention is preferred over a careful, steady, and thoughtful approach to diet, exercise, mental health and other prevention activities.
Perhaps eventually, we will come to understand and reward a healthy, community based approach to wellness. Given our current directions, that may still be a long time coming. When and if it does, perhaps like Kodak, our current focus on acute disease treatment rather than health will become a thing of the past.
“What Business Are We In? The Emergence of Health as the Business of Health Care” By Ash and Volpp in The New England Journal of Medicine, September 6, 2012, page 888-9 and
“From Sick Care to Health Care- Reengineering Prevention into the US System” by Marvasti and Stafford in The New England Journal of Medicine, same issue, page 889-91