Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

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How the surplus was/will be spent: The Gazette asks -- "...Two years from now, will Montana have another huge surplus pile of cash? Or might the spending approved this year eat up any potential surplus, creating a deficit?" We'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count.

It was clear this session that when it came to tax cuts or rebates, Democrats put on their fiscal responsibility hat and fretted over whether such cuts would break the bank.

But when it came to spending proposals, there never seemed to be any worry about those potentially breaking the bank. At such moments, they put on their "essential services to the people of Montana" hats -- and for some reason there were always more (and more expensive) essential state services when the Democrats were sitting down to figure out how to spend the DOR's take.

"Glee": That one word from the article about how the head of the Dept. of Health and Human Services feels about the increased spending in this year's state budget says it all. It probably reflects how all the department heads must feel (except maybe for the agriculture and livestock folks -- did their budgets ever get put back up to what the Republican House proposed?)

With 400 new full-time employees added to the state payroll, those who want our state's taxation and government bureaucracy to resemble California more closely have a lot to be gleeful about.

But we heartless Republicans should rest easy (except when sending our checks to the DOR) -- if it turns out that we're still rolling in money two years from now, we'll get big tax cuts rather than even more state employees and higher spending, right?

How to get $400 in just 27 easy steps: Leave it to our friends on the left side of the aisle to turn a tax rebate into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

The whole thing could have been accomplished by a simple check-box on a Montana income tax form: "Did you own, pay taxes on, and live for at least 6 months in a primary residence in the State of Montana in 2007?" If yes, add $400 to your income and subtract $400 from your total tax. If you get audited and are found to have misrepresented this, you get a hefty fine. Done.

For those who live in Montana and pay property taxes on their home but for some reason don't file a state income tax form, the Kafka routine could still be available.

Crying wolf: Surprise, surprise -- wolves will bypass elk and deer and go for easier prey like domestic livestock. By the way, have we somehow missed the investigative reports in the Montana media that detail:

1. The numbers of livestock killed by wolves
2. The numbers that ranchers have actually been compensated for by Defenders of Wildlife or other environmentalist groups
3. How long it takes to get reimbursed by said groups
4. Whether the reimbursement takes into consideration other factors such as lost income on investment between the time the kill happened and when the reimbursement was received
5. How complicated the procedures are for getting reimbursed

Credit to the Gazette when credit is due: In its "Ups and Downs" segment, the Billings Gazette editors treated Gov. Schweitzer's "ride a kangaroo" comment as though it had been made by a Republican. The comment was directed to the Australian firm BBI, after its bid to buy Northwestern Energy was rejected by the state Public Service Commission.

They wrote: "Schweitzer's comment was flippant and inappropriate to the complex and serious matter of selling Montana's largest utility distribution business to the Australian firm."

The regrouping of the Montana GOP: Gwen Florio's article in the Great Falls Tribune talks about the divisions in the Montana GOP -- but other than talking about the ouster of Mike Lange as Majority leader at the end of the legislative session and of a primary race ousting a Republican legislator who broke ranks in 2005, there wasn't a lot of evidence in her article for a division about core principles within the GOP.

There was a lot of evidence for there being a division between Republicans and Democrats.

Montana Headlines has little inside information to back this up, but a more realistic assessment is that there is very little disagreement on core issues and tendencies between "moderates" and "conservatives." We're all pretty conservative in these parts.

The key issue is really more one of style. There are also these questions, which Montana Headlines in its own way has been addressing in one way or another since the beginning of this site: is it possible to be a firm, principled traditional conservative without being shrill and bellicose? And is it possible to arrive at real-world compromises while remaining uncompromising about our core beliefs?

The sweep of historical conservatism in the Anglo-American governmental, cultural, and legal tradition answers that question with a resounding "yes." Some of the reputation for shrillness on the part of Montana conservatives is deserved, and that needs to change. But a lot of it is the product of unfair caricatures by the opponents of the GOP.

We know we will be caricatured, so Republicans have to adjust tone and strategies accordingly -- replacing bellicosity where it exists with calm, thoughtful, and quiet determination. Initial impressions are that Erik Iverson, as the probably state GOP chairman, will more reflect the latter, but it is the duty of all Republicans to make sure it is so -- not just the leadership.

Not only does it make practical sense to approach things in that manner, it also keeps us fully in the traditions of conservatism -- moderation in all things, caution when it comes to change, Christian behavior, respectable comportment, generosity and magnanimity in one's personal life, acting with respect toward established offices and institutions... and so forth.

We need, in other words, to be in public what we are at home and work. And if we aren't that way at home and work -- well, then we may be many things, but we aren't particularly conservative.


ayn rand said...

Well said. This past legislative session should be a wake up call to all Montanans. I believe this past session’s refusal by republican legislators to stand by their supposed conservative ideals has set back our party ten years. The gang of thirteen will be looked upon as either true consensus (lack of leadership) builders or capitulators and afraid to really take a stand for Montana. I think they wanted to go home and the state taxpayers be damned. After all, as in campaigning, it’s easier to write a check than knock on doors. When bedrock ideals are expressed and then flung upon the dung heap, it will be hard to believe in these folks again.

Montana Headlines said...

Whatever strategies that Republicans had this session, they didn't succeed in the end. Had we clearly rallied a majority of Montanans behind lower taxes and lower spending, we would have won more concessions from Democrats.

Standing by principles or ideals alone won't be enough -- we are a place where it is no longer enough just to muster the support of dedicated Republicans.

Part of what set us back 10 years was a failure to realize that the Montana electorate is not the same one as we had 10 years ago.

This does not mean that we need to move to the middle, though.

It means that we have to pay attention to what parts of our rich conservative tradition (some pieces of which we ourselves have forgotten) are going to resonate most strongly with fellow Montanans who have been voting Democrat the last couple of cycles -- but who are by no means comfortable there, either.

Anonymous said...

I guess one can give the Gazette credit for criticizing the governor. But the item was short and subdued and buried at the end of the commentary. It will be interesting to see if Gazette used up their quota of Democratic criticism for the year with that.