Tourism is the second largest industry in Montana—a true success story and one we can all be proud of. Currently House Bill 316 is being considered by the Montana Legislature, calling for diverting a portion of revenue and/or future allocations from over 20 state accounts, including the 4 percent Lodging Facility Use Tax.
As Executive Director of Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission (the officially recognized tourism region for Western Montana including Ravalli, Missoula, Lake, Mineral, Sanders, Lincoln, Flathead and Glacier counties, the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Blackfoot Nation), we have the pleasure of working with individuals, businesses, organizations, tribal partners and communities to promote our area as a travel destination.
Our lodging industry already collects and sends 3 percent of the 7 percent accommodations tax to the general fund. In FY 2010, it deposited $12,330,846 into the state’s general fund. If more money were diverted to the fund, it would hurt the programs and marketing outreach conducted by tourism agencies (like Glacier Country and Montana Office of Tourism) that work to bring visitors and new money into our economy.
Of the 10 million visitors that come to our state every year, western Montana has the pleasure of hosting approximately one-third of those visitors either on their way to or from Glacier National Park. We also directly receive the same share of the $2.3 billion in non-resident expenditures paid by those visitors or approximately $750 million. They did not come on their own. They were reached out to through organizations and programs supported by the 4 percent Lodging Facility Use Tax. To see any of that taken away or manipulated would be a travesty.
This bill would also have a disastrous impact on our cities, health/insurance programs, education, heritage preservation and environmental programs as it is directly impacting funding for them as well. Please contact your local legislative representatives and help protect this vital part of our economy.
Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission
Bottom line: Trapping is a cruel and brutal way to kill an animal. Inflicting a slow and agonizingly painful death on any creature is indefensible (see “Feeling the squeeze,” Jan. 27, 2011).
Why some people participate and defend this merciless activity is perplexing, but I suspect the compassion component in these individuals’ genetic makeup may be underdeveloped or all together missing.
The events of the past weeks of the Montana legislative session prompt me to write a letter, not about specific bills, but about the shift in the value systems of the people who are elected to represent us.
On Jan. 28, 2011, Rachel Maddow discussed this shift using Republican President Eisenhower as an example. (You can Google this by searching “Eisenhower Rachel Maddow.”) According to the politics of today, Eisenhower would seem like a radical. He advocated for expanding Social Security, strengthening unions, more access to health care and equal pay for workers regardless of sex. This is not a comprehensive list, just a selection.
Our state government has cut federal food stamp benefits by $35 million and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program by $9 million. This is not state money. It was simply turning away federal dollars that would have gone to Montana families in need. This is the tiny tip of the iceberg.
The part of this that fills me with confusion is that many members of this ultra-conservative group identify themselves as Christians. How does denying food and warmth to low-income children, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, and the mentally ill coincide with the principles of Christianity? Where does looking out for yourself, and ignoring everyone else, find a place in the value systems of people who have been elected as public servants?
It is up to us, the people, to correct this trend and to change our direction. I hope for sanity and compassion.
There is legislation under consideration that would undermine one of the most significant conservation programs in American history (see “Bill mires Mitchell Slough,” Feb. 10, 2011). House Bill 309 is a blatant attempt to “define” hundreds of miles of stream channels as irrigation ditches and deny us access to a natural resource Montanans nurtured for a half century.
Exactly fifty years ago fish biologists identified three perils that threatened our rich heritage of rivers and streams: stream channelization, water pollution, and dewatering. Within two years the Montana Legislature passed the first stream preservation act in the nation designed to prevent meandering steam channels from becoming bulldozed flumes. The legislation was signed into law by a Republican governor whose conservative philosophy included conservation.
Cleaning up the water and protecting the amount of water in streams followed. The challenges came in all sizes. In the 1970s, multinational corporations laid claim to the Yellowstone River as part of a potential coal bonanza. The claims would have depleted the longest free flowing river in the lower 48 states. The Legislature responded by placing a moratorium on industrial water permits and rewriting Montana water law with in-stream flow protection. The intellectual and political leadership came from a Glendive-area legislator whose livelihood was irrigated agriculture.
Stream conservation challenges have been met all across Montana from fish passage up the Tongue River to proposals to dam the Yaak. They even included convincing British Columbia not to mine and drill their portion of the Flathead. In the process we became a place of legend. Our waters had magic in their names: the Big Blackfoot, Big Spring Creek, the Big Hole, Madison, Missouri. The list goes on. We labeled them “Blue Ribbon Streams.” How appropriate for the Last Best Place.
Through it all, the Montana courts, and then the Legislature, defined the terms of our access to these waters: They were open to the people. There was to be no privatization of this public resource. Commercial fishing outfitters and individual anglers stood shoulder to shoulder in defense of this common resource and it has worked remarkably well for the last quarter century.
The one exception to this success story occurred when an investment banker, a rock star, and a few others decided they needed to cut the public out. The fight was over access to a slough on the Bitterroot River where the locals had been tossing worms and flies at fish for generations. The people prevailed in preserving public access. The Montana Supreme Court ruled the slough was indeed a natural water body and not an irrigation ditch as these few landowners asserted. Those seeking exclusive privilege to water and fish then brought this bitter fruit from the Bitterroot to the 2011 Montana Legislature. The attempt to legislate restrictions on public access to Montana streams became HB 309. The bill pretends to have something to do with irrigation. It is really all about public access and there is the potential for a damaging outcome given today’s conservative anti-conservation political ideology. Once again, it is time for the people to stand and speak. On Mar. 8 there will be a rally at the Capitol at 2 p.m., before a meeting of the Senate Agriculture Committee at 3 p.m. Be there to make democracy work, and if you can’t come, contact your state senator and respectfully demand a “no” vote on HB 309.
The Montana House of Representatives recently voted to pass on to the Senate House Bill 198, which would give persons the right to use eminent domain to condemn private land once a corporation is granted a certificate under the Major Facilities Siting Act. If the Senate allows this bill to become Montana law, they set a dangerous precedent for the private property rights of all Montanans.
HB 198 would give the right of condemnation, without need for good-faith negotiations, to persons who will use the land they condemn to make a profit. The taking of property for a person’s profit differs fundamentally from a governmental taking of property for the public’s use. Why should Montana landowners have to subsidize these profits for other entities? The profits earned by these persons, who could be from another state or even country, will be exported from the state as surely as the energy that flows through their structures crossing Montana’s landscape.
A delicate balance exists between private property rights and the need for public taking of such property through eminent domain. Eminent domain should be a last resort, used by a governmental agency or a person only when negotiations with the owner of the desired property have broken down. When the landowner has no ability to negotiate the taking of their property, for a profit-making venture by a non-governmental entity, it is inevitable that the market value of that property, for the purpose it is being taken, will not be realized. The “market value” that the takers of the property will assess will be based on current agricultural land uses, not the industrial use for which the land is taken, and won’t consider the added liability and loss of control of the property to which the landowner is subjected after condemnation.
The Montana Legislature is attacking our right to clean air, clean water and public health (see “Natural disaster,” Feb. 17, 2011). If successful, their actions will destroy most, if not all, protections against pollution created by industry. These companies have a history of making huge profits extracting natural resources from Montana and leaving us with health hazards, tax burdens and Superfund sites. Some people would have us believe industries cannot operate under regulations. This is false. We can, and have been operating economically viable industries that employ Montanans, while protecting clean air, clean water and public health. Our natural beauty and wildlife attract millions of tourists and their dollars every year. These industries are already successfully operating within the regulations the Legislature is working to dissolve. The array of bills coming out of the Legislature seeking to undermine public involvement, strip environmental regulations, nullify key national environmental protection laws and in general ignore science are just mind-boggling.
Please contact your state representatives. Tell them how important clean air, clean water and public health are to your family and future generations. We need intelligent, common sense leadership from our elected officials.
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