Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reject LR-123 Save a farm, vote for I-166

Posted on Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 2:33 PM

For a good number of years, I was a banker here in Montana. If you were to go to any bank and ask for a $100 withdrawal, the first thing a teller would do is make sure you had funds in your account.

Verifying that there is money in an account before handing over cash or checks just makes common sense. It is a standard accounting practice whether you are a teller, a businessman or the governor of Montana.

My understanding of how to run a good business is just one reason I oppose Legislative Referendum 123, which could be on the Montana ballot this November. LR-123 is an irresponsible referendum that would undermine Montana's ability to wisely manage our state budget and would subject state government to even more unnecessary political gimmicks and tricks.

Under LR-123, if a single state employee, the legislative fiscal analyst, underestimates state revenues, it would trigger an automatic tax kickback, with most of the money going to the wealthiest Montanans. If that sounds crazy to you, you are not alone. LR-123 is so convoluted and complex, even budget experts do not agree on exactly how it would work.

You do not need to be a banker to recognize that automatically cutting kickback checks based on projections is irresponsible. Last year, for example, the state legislative fiscal division was hundreds of millions of dollars off in estimating how much money Montana really had. If LR-123 were law of the land back then, the state would have ended up giving away revenues without even being able to consider necessary investments in schools, roads, infrastructure, wild land fire protection, children's health care and other essential state services.

Montana has weathered the recent recession better than most states because we saved money in the state budget for a rainy day. As many of our farmers and ranchers would say, we left some "grain in the bin." LR-123 would end that practice in order to line the pockets of a special few. That is not only bad business. It is also not fair.

Just look at what happened to Oregon, the only state with a measure like LR-123. In December 2007, just as the country was heading into a recession, Oregon returned $1.1 billion to taxpayers, effectively emptying their grain bin. In 2009, after their state economy crashed and unemployment soared, the Oregon Legislature voted to raise taxes by $727 million and they are still in debt today. This kind of policy in Montana would be equally devastating.

LR-123 even prohibits any kind of override or legislative review—the kickback is automatic. If projections show the state has surplus money, checks go out the door with no questions asked and over 60 percent of rebates would go to the top 20 percent of taxpayers.

Projecting revenues is a complicated process. To get the best results, information must be continuously updated from numerous sources. You must have the flexibility to adjust to sudden and often dramatic changes in economic activity, not to mention natural disasters like fighting forest fires and spring floods. The last thing our emergency services need is to become handcuffed because the state is forced to send automatic kickbacks to millionaires.

We need a budget that is controlled by the people of Montana through their elected representatives, not by one unelected legislative analyst. LR-123 proposes to shift oversight from the legislature to the state legislative analyst, empowering this person with full authority to disburse our state's tax surplus. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock recently cited this fact in ruling that LR-123 is blatantly unconstitutional. The matter is now before our supreme court. If the Montana Supreme Court upholds Judge Sherlock's ruling before ballots are certified, LR-123 will be taken off the ballot. If not, it will be on the ballot and you the voter will get to decide.

If this dangerous and irresponsible measure does appear on the November ballot, I ask all Montanans to do the right thing, and vote NO on LR-123.

Learn more about LR-123 and get involved at NoLR123.org today.

Ed Jasmin

Montanans for Fiscal Accountability

Helena

Obviously, someone's out there raising a bit of rabble regarding Initiative 166, the measure to nullify the Supreme Court's novel notion that corporations are people and money is speech. I-166 will likely qualify for the November ballot and Montana citizens will likely vote its passage, apparently causing Jake Cummins of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation considerable concern.

His commentary on this citizens' initiative (see Letters, June 11) is stunningly simplistic, confused and confusing. And wrong on several points. I'd be interested to know if his conclusions were the result of his own thinking, or if he's simply rolling out talking points blathered by those who, for various self-serving reasons, oppose the movement to squelch the corporate takeover of our electoral system and, by extension, of the family farms that his group, one would think, seeks to support.

First, let's dispatch the nonsensical idea that money and speech are the same. Money is not speech and has no material relationship to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, our Supreme Court does not agree with that proposition, but they have not always been right. And they have done all sorts of handstands, back flips and other gymnastics and contortions to try to prove their point—including, in the Citizens United case, directing the parties to completely deconstruct and reconstruct their cases so the justices could get to the ruling they were predisposed to make. Money is a flexible medium of exchange that can buy things: clothes, food, houses, tons of TV time and, eventually, elections and the politicians they help prevail. But it is not speech. Speech is the expression of thoughts and ideas. The former sometimes enables the latter, but that does not make it the latter. I-166 simply strives to make that distinction clear within the state and federal constructs that explain who is who and what is what.

Second, there's a difference between the inalienable rights conferred by a constitution and pertinent to actual human beings, and legal rights conferred by laws and regulations promulgated by governments, to the benefit of specified groups of people and organizations. Mr. Cummins' ability to incorporate, as a small farmer or small businessperson, is a legal right provided him by Montana law. He's not "forced to incorporate," as he states. It is in his best interest to do so because it provides him protection as an individual citizen in the event of legal action against his farm or business and it guarantees him access to the courts and equal protection under the law. It also may give him some tax breaks. It is to the benefit of all the people because it provides enterprising people an incentive to start businesses with less exposure to risk, whether it be farming or operating a hot dog stand. None of this will change if I-166 passes. What may change, though, is that Mr. Cummins and his fellow Farm Bureau Federation members may have better access to legislators and greater involvement in farm policy matters because the influence of the global giants of agriculture won't overwhelm him, either at the polls or in the lobbies of the legislature.

Family farms will not benefit by the defeat of I-166. And they will not lose any legal protections if it passes. In fact, the exact opposite will be true: Mega-corporations that seek to dominate the production, processing, distribution and marketing of agricultural products will be able to pay to influence elections for their own purposes. And the aims of Monsanto and ADM are almost always counter to the interests of family farmers. Once these global behemoths have successfully purchased the lawmakers in both state legislatures and federally, laws and regulatory measures that benefit them, to the exclusion of smaller farming operations, will be the order of the day. Montana, as a farming state, has a great deal to lose if large corporations continue to be allowed to spend huge amounts of cash in political campaigns. Not only will farm policy at the federal level become the plaything of the wealthy corporations who have taken over so much of America's farmland, but these corporations will also soon take over the legislatures of the states for their own benefit. The continued takeover of family farms by giant agriculture, enabled by unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, will eventually leave Cummins and friends in the Farm Bureau Federation in the dust. Only it won't be their dust anymore.

Given the stake most of Montana's farmers have in the passage of I-166, is Mr. Cummins really speaking as the voice of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation? And more importantly, is he really advocating in the best interests of Montana's farmers?

Bruce Midgett

Missoula Moves to Amend

Missoula

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