A question was posed at the dinner table on Christmas Eve: What is the greatest challenge facing our country?” Together, we agreed the answer was simple – civility. Fortunately, it is also our largest opportunity. Through civility, we put away the fear that divides us and start solving the real problems that plague our families and communities.
While the legislature is a place where civility is sometimes strained, as elected leaders we can and must set the example of civility, quashing the internal hostilities that would seek to tear us apart. We needn’t agree on everything to accomplish excellent, meaningful solutions for Montana, but we do need to listen to one another.
Undoubtedly, Montana’s 68th Legislature will need all the civility it can muster as it takes on one of the most interesting scenarios our state has faced – the surplus. With a surplus of approximately $2 billion dollars, this legislature must answer questions about how best this money can be returned to the taxpayers of Montana and in what form. Make no mistake – how your legislators choose to manage the surplus will be the most impactful issue of the session.
Likely, some percentage of the surplus may be returned in the form of much-needed property tax relief, some in direct rebate, and some in key tax credits that help Montana families such as the child tax credit and adoption tax credit. The legislature must also tackle the question of what truly qualifies as a return? Is a simple return best or should we consider return of investment for taxpayers? For instance, is paying down the debt on state bonds or putting aside funds to secure federal grants to complete key infrastructure, saving Montana taxpayers money in the long run, perhaps a wise tool for putting money back in the pockets of the people? There are many complex scenarios that must be considered if we are to responsibly handle what is likely a once-in-a-generation occasion.
As we tackle the surplus and other key issues, we must pursue answers that better the lives of people in Kalispell; we must not settle for rubberstamped soundbites. We need legislation that solves primary problems such as Montana’s fentanyl crisis. With this in mind, I plan to carry legislation that will ensure stiff penalties for anyone caught trafficking fentanyl in Montana. This deadly, addictive scourge is considered by Attorney General Knudsen to be the number one public safety threat facing our state, with a 1100% increase in overdose-related Montana deaths since 2017.
Assuredly, there will be different opinions and impassioned political positions. Perhaps my grandmother Mary Kay Riedel, who once served as a Flathead County Justice of the Peace, said it best, “It’s a darn thin pancake that doesn’t have two sides.” Almost fifty years later, her advice still rings true. Our country was built on a belief in the vigorous, respectful, and transparent debate of ideas. Through this process, we ensure liberty and uphold the constitutional promise of a Representative Republic; the people of Montana deserve no less.