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NACo Finance & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Report - 2012 Legislative Conference


Posted Date: 
March 9, 2012
Contact: 
Vic Miller, Blaine County Commissioner

As a member of the Finance and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, our subcommittee meetings occurred on Saturday March 3, commencing with the Reservations Subcommittee. New Chair Woman, Lena Fowler, set the tone of the sub-committee by asking the group of development in their individual states on how counties and tribes are acting in a positive manner.

I was happy to report that the Montana Association of Reservation Counties has their first meeting with Montana Wyoming Tribal Chair Association Director, Gordon Belcourt. Given the somewhat contentious and rocky relationships that Montana counties and tribes have had in the past, I felt our strides were a step in the right direction. I was able to make a plea for federal recognition of our Little Shell Band in Montana. NACo and tribes have also had a similar past history of furthering relationships, and I was happy to see this move forward. Other parts of the country are not experiencing similar results, particularly in areas of high population, land acquisitions, and gaming interests being involved.

The next subcommittee deals with election issues. While we know that elections are usually a state issue, I am again happy to report that Montana, and particularly Blaine County, is not subject to a number of abuses to a system that should not have flaws. We did receive a report from the PEW Research Group on how to modernize voter registrations and the role that the federal government MAY have to be involved in. I might also add that we are fortunate to have our Clerk and Recorder, Sandi Boardman, on the working group of the State of Montana. Her leadership and vision are apparent “back home” as well. The rest of the meeting centered on the aging of election machines as we enter a new generation of election machines available.

Our third subcommittee also had a new vice chairman Daniel Troy. This subcommittee deals with finances (taxes). Of very little ramifications for Montana, but for states that have sales tax and local option taxes is the Small Market Fairness Act. In a nutshell, internet sales generate a lost tax revenue of approximately $23 Billion. For the main street business person trying to compete with a fair level playing field, they are subject to paying the sales tax while internet sellers (remote sellers) are excluded. Imagine going to an internet outlet and asking for a donation for the local baseball league for your children. Needless to say, the debate on this bill filled our committee room. I urge our Congress to take action on this bill. I mentioned this bill has no validity on Montana. I need to digress a bit. For our main street drug stores and appliance shops, internet sales do reach our main streets. Online publishing hits our local newspapers. I could go on and on. There is a huge change in on how retail business is taking place anymore.

Sunday, we had our full committee meeting and reiterated the work from the day before.

Monday and Tuesday was general sessions and workshops.  I attended the Transportation Workshop on the Highway Bill and then the National Flood Insurance Programs Workshop. The first General Session was a debate between National Syndicate speakers Tucker Carlson and Eleanor Clift. The debate was entertaining and one could gather insight into the upcoming election cycle. Tuesday’s General Session included Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo) and both were there in support of the Small Market Fairness Act. We also heard from Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack on the upcoming Farm Bill. I was and have always been impressed by Secretary Vilsack. His progressive attitude and vision for agriculture is something I admire. I was also equally impressed with Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. His straightforward approach and answers in a place like Washington, D.C. was refreshing.

I ended the day by attending a session on hydraulic fracturing. As a panel discussion, the presentations were well balanced in their approach. The Montana delegation then went to the Senate Finance Committee Room at the Dirksen Senate Building. We were able to spend time with Senator Baucus and his staff. While Senator Tester and Congressman Rehberg were unable to attend, some of Congressman Rehberg’s staff was also in attendance. Of particular note was seeing Blaine County’s Sarah Harshman and Heather O’Loughlin. Sarah is working very hard on the Senate Finance Committee staff and Heather works for Senator Baucus. Sarah, of course, is from Chinook. Heather’s forefathers homesteaded in the Savoy area. It is refreshing to see some of Blaine County’s finest folks working in our nation’s Capitol for our good.

As depressing as we may be on occasion about the goings on in our political world, I am always refreshed to see people truly working for our good. It gives me hope.

Vic Miller | vmiller@co.blaine.mt.gov | (406)353-2819