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Reforms needed for the state of Montana

The direction of the state of Montana needs to change course and make sure
the tax burden is fair for all. The mining companies, corporations and
electric companies need to pay their fair share of taxes. Safeguards need
to be established to ensure companies and corporations are held accountable
for reclamation and other necessary actions when companies file bankruptcy.

The governor touts a 4.5 percent unemployment rate but refuses to include
all of Montana. Seven Indian reservations have unemployment rates that
range from 45 percent to 70 percent. If we are going to improve the
economic conditions of this state, then all of Montana needs to be

The state's education system needs to provide more lucrative offers to our
college graduates so we can keep them in our state, rather than see them
leave for other states that offer better pay and better benefits.

During the 2003 legislative session, I strongly supported pieces of
legislation brought forward by the Montana Education Association. In
Montana, state funding for public schools has been declining drastically
for over a decade. In 1991, the state paid for 71 percent of public K - 12
education. By 1995, that rate had dropped to approximately 67 percent. This
year, it's down to 61 percent, and by fiscal year 2005, projections
indicate that the state will fund only 57 percent of K - 12 public
education costs. Make no mistake: Our public schools are in jeopardy. The
2003 Legislature cut $15 million from schools, just when schools need the
money most. It took a Supreme Court ruling to determine the state's
education system failed its constitutional obligation.

In the area of natural resources, I introduced House Bill 367, which was to
clean up the defunct Zortman/Landusky mine on the southern end of Blaine
County. This bill was to authorize the state of Montana to sell bonds from
the Resource Indemnity Trust Fund. This would properly reclaim the mine
sight. Pegasus Mining Company had profited over $250 million dollars before
filing bankruptcy in 1998. The state authorized expansion on 19 different
occasions since 1979 when Pegasus opened for operation.

Open pit, cyanide-heap leach mines have left Montana with millions in
reclamation clean up costs. Montana is currently liable for up to $60
million in reclamation and water treatment costs at the Zortman/Landusky,
Beal Mountain and Kendall mines. This year alone, the state is spending
$500,000 in taxpayer funds to develop plans for these clean up costs. The
Zortman/Landusky Mine in Ft. Belknap has contaminated ground and surface
water with cyanide and acid mine drainage. The state and the Environment
Protection Agency (EPA) filed suit against the mining company charging that
its waste discharges "present human health risks" and that "the acidity of
the discharges is killing fish and aquatic life." Water pollution is so
severe that the state has determined water treatment will be required

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Meanwhile, the past decade brought us the infamous deregulation of
electricity debacle. Propane prices are expected to reach $2 per gallon
this winter. The cost of electricity skyrocketed since deregulation was
implemented. Utility deregulation will end up costing Northwestern Energy
electric customers in Montana at least $300 million the next five years,
according to an analysis released in July 2002 by former Public Service
Commissioner Tom Schneider, a Helena energy consultant who ran again for
the PSC in 2002. Again, the citizens of Montana are left holding the bag
with high costs of electricity, gas and propane, while the power companies
are off the hook by filing for bankruptcy.

Health care costs have risen due to privatization. HMOs have driven up the
costs of health care. The cost of prescription drugs is holding patients
hostage with a tight grip from this industry. The federal government and
this current administration is making it tougher for American citizens to
hold the health care industry accountable for its actions with laws being
implemented to protect the industry from so called frivolous lawsuits. The
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) turned back $5.4
million in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIPS) dollars
to the federal government last year alone, because Montana couldn't cover
the necessary matching dollars required on its part, leaving many children
without needed health care.

The Legislature and the state of Montana need to uphold the obligations
clearly spelled out in Montana's Constitution. The Supreme Court should not
have to rule on any cases against the state any longer. All we have to do
is follow the Constitution we swear to uphold when we are elected and sworn
into office.

The Republican Party has controlled the Majority in the Senate, the House
and occupied the governor's office for the last 12 years. The 2003
Legislature was faced with a $253 million budget; and the legislature said
it had replaced money in different areas of education and other
departmental functions. The Montana general population was led to believe
in this appearance of a balanced budget.

However, before the start of the next legislative session in January 2005,
the projected deficit will reach up to $200 million. So, we're back to
square one.

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-District 92, is a Chippewa Cree councilman in
Rocky Boy, Mont.