Provident Care

Kudos to Yellowstone County Commissioners.

The role of public office holder is to carefully steward the public's money.

The purpose of taxes is to provide for the necessities of government and to provide for those things that the private sector cannot. And, those things have primarily to do with providing protection, enforcing laws and dispensing justice (military, law enforcement, and courts.) At no time is taxpayer money to be placed at risk.

There was a time when these tenets were much more clearly understood by citizens, but in this modern era of entitlements, wealth redistribution, patronage, and top-down administration, such concepts are quaint, at best. Nevertheless, Yellowstone County Commissioners and other public office holders in Yellowstone County are to be commended for understanding their responsibilities and adhering to them in a day when there is so much clamor for them to do otherwise.

It is not the purpose of County Commissioners to be event promoters – to entertain the public. One can readily make the case that it is not the purpose of county commissioners to administer any kind of enterprise, including a facility like Metra Park. In both cases, the taxpayers' money is being placed at high risk.

The reality is, of course, that they are administrators of a publically-owned venture, but there is no need to expand that role as some would have them do. There has been a clamoring for the county commissioners to co-promote events at Metra Park – an endeavor which by its very nature is an exercise in risk. This is a role far beyond the intention of the creation of a board of county commissioners or county government.

There are event promoters of all kinds from every corner of the country – many are local promoters. They demonstrate every day that the private sector is fully capable of pursuing this kind of endeavor and it is a process which places the risks and rewards where they belong. There is absolutely no reason to place taxpayers' money at risk – unless it's because some members of the private sector are trying to minimize their own risk, at taxpayer expense. Such has become an unfortunate common use of government.

Be assured that there is risk. If a concert is a sure thing, there is no invitation to co-promote.

And, while there is money to be made, it would take only one colossal failure – due to nothing more than a poorly- timed winter blizzard – for Metra Park to lose more on one concert than they may have earned on two or three successful concerts. All losses, of course, would have to be covered by taxpayers.

Property taxpayers already subsidize Metra Park each year in excess of one million dollars, through a standing mill levy, and that doesn't include the expenditures the county commissioners, with some regularity, spend from other county funds.

People should have a choice about whether they want to place their hard earned money at risk in a business venture. That's what the market place and entrepreneurship is all about.

As with every expansion in the role of government, to step into the role of promoting concerts is but an invitation for future expansion. As sure as the sun rising, it will bring demands to co-promote other events. One can already hear the lament: "Why should the county co-promote events with out-of-state promoters who don't even pay local taxes?" "They should co-promote with local business people." "Why not co-promote the trade shows, the rodeos, the sport events?" Once crossed, what is a fair point at which to draw the line?

That concerts, sport events, trade shows, rodeos, etc. are an economic boon to many businesses people in Billings is an absolute certainty, but there are many others for whom it is not – at least not any more so than any other kind of business activity. The fact is every successful business venture has a positive ripple effect that buoys the whole community.

We should all be grateful for the frugal manner in which Yellowstone County government has been conducted. There is probably no county government in the entire country that is in any better financial condition. Yellowstone County has the highest bond rating possible, and because of past frugality, the country was readily able to finance the costly, unexpected repairs that Metra Park needed following the tornado, without further burdening taxpayers.

The fact is, equally as important to a community's economy, as private investment, is a fiscally-sound, transparent and prudent government, and that only comes from government sticking to its limited role, which gives private enterprise the full opportunity of rising and falling upon its own merits.

Depends on Whose Privacy


Recently a room full of teachers were informed that in the future their job performance evaluations and employment records would be maintained in a centralized data base for access by anyone with a password. There was something of an audible gasp throughout the room. No one made a comment but there was left the impression that there were at least a few teachers who were not happy with the news.

These are the same teachers who are willing facilitators of a massive data gathering and centralized warehousing of information on almost every child in the US as part of Common Core. How that data will be used by educators, employers, law enforcement, government, etc. in the future is a huge uncertainty with great potential for misuse and abuse, but there was no audible gasp from teachers regarding its institution. So, perhaps the teachers understood that they had no room to protest? But, really, someone should protest. With this kind of mass compilation of data, coupled with the data gathering and storing, which is being done under Obamacare, who needs the NSA?

Read more: Depends on Whose Privacy

Montana Agriculture Well Positioned

In the realm of Montana agriculture, George Haynes, Professor and Extension Specialist for the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University, said that if Montana cattlemen "don't have smiles on their faces, they will never have smiles on their faces."

Historically speaking, cattle prices are very high and will likely stay at that level, said Haynes, since cattle numbers are low. Calves are selling at $2.40 to $2.50 a pound. That means a 700-pound calf is "worth a lot of money," said Haynes.

Read more: Montana Agriculture Well Positioned

Prosperity for Rural Montana? Who Knew?

Whether its natural gas processing plants, refineries, pipelines, or rail hubs, we are seeing them locate in North Dakota like mushrooms popping up on a warm spring morning. The difference in whether they locate in North Dakota or in Montana is sometimes only a matter of a few miles – and always it seems they make the effort to get over that border into North Dakota.

During the recent energy conference when MDU Chief Executive Officer, David Goodin, was asked why they located the first refinery to be built in the US since 1976 near Dickinson, his gracious response was to say that they were "pleased" with the prompt regulatory process of North Dakota. The project was launched and it is expected to be completed within a two year span.

Read more: Prosperity for Rural Montana? Who Knew?

Information is Power

There is lots of discussion about the validity of the way news gets reported any more. Media "professionals" are finding their toes being stepped upon, and people who used to have a corner on the market, so to speak, are lamenting that they are no longer relevant.

There is lots of angst about the nature of the information and about who is putting it out there. Indeed there are many new venues – some good and some not so good. Some new, and some not so new.

I find that the issue comes down to what it has always come down to, using one's own resources and good judgment to determine the credibility of information – not just on the editor's part but on the part of the reader as well.

Read more: Information is Power

Privacy about More than Privacy

With all the concern about privacy being discussed today, it should be remembered that no one has a "right to privacy" – you only have a right to try to retain and maintain your privacy.

Government is not required to keep information private. Actually quite the opposite is true. In order to maintain transparency in Government, Government is under the onus to make most information available.

The important restraint on Government is NOT to obtain private information in the first place.

Read more: Privacy about More than Privacy

Talking about the Real Issue

It has nothing to do with energy.

It's all about power – and not electrical power.

The discord that exists regarding energy solutions really has nothing to do with energy – it's a struggle over political power. To argue the merits of one kind of energy over another shouldn't be a political discussion. Neither should the entire issue of global warming be a political discussion – unless of course such issues are being used as leverage to get people to give up liberty they would not otherwise be convinced to relinquish.

Read more: Talking about the Real Issue

What is Better than Freedom?

by Evelyn Pyburn


There was a time that the United States was the beacon for economic freedom.

Not any more – while, around the world other countries have advanced their freedom to a degree never before seen, the US is clamping down on freedom in ways that often astonish newcomers to the country.

The US has slipped out of the top ten in the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, after seven years of persistent decline.

Read more: What is Better than Freedom?

Education Funds Ignored

The Montana State Land Board announced that they are turning $120 million over to Montana public schools. The funds are those generated from state lands held in trust for the purpose of funding public education.

While $120 million sounds like a lot of money, the fact is it is nothing compared to what could be. The State Land Board is missing a huge opportunity to fully fund Montana schools because of an anti-business political agenda and a steadfast opposition to developing natural resources.

The ultimate losers are Montana school children.

The State Land Board and the State Legislature holds in their power the means to generate huge sums for education by developing the resources that were set aside, at the state's founding, specifically, for educating our children.

The State Land Board oversees assets worth $2.8 billion, which includes more than five million acres of land and an even greater amount in mineral rights.

The fact is $120 million is less than one-half of one percent of $2.8 billion. By anyone's calculations that is a dismal return on capital. Even the poorest businessman could accidentally generate a better return with that kind of investment.

The Land Board is made up of five elected state officials, who in general have had an astounding record of vehemently opposing the development of natural resources — most especially those on state lands. Most ironically, one of the staunchest opponents has been Denise Juneau, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who stands with the rest of the education community, every two years, pleading and demanding for more education funding from state coffers.

With so little return on state land assets, those dollars are expected to come out of the pockets of the hard-working, beleaguered taxpayers.

The $120 million covers about eight percent of school budgets. So all the State Land Board needs to do is increase their return on capital to six percent, and they could cover most of the cost of education for the entire state. That is what the founders had in mind when they established school trust lands, but of course, they had no idea the day would come when educating our children would take a back-seat to a progressive political agenda.

The political disconnect is all the more incomprehensible given another recent report that 80 percent of Montana voters support the development of timber, oil, natural gas, mining and coal. But that is nothing new – every year the Montana Chamber of Commerce's P-Base Survey has yielded very much the same percentage of support, with a possibility of error at +/- 3 percent.

It's very hard to get a clear answer about why this situation isn't changed – from either side of the isle. Why can't state lands be managed in a way that seriously funds education? Why are state policies regarding natural resource development dictated by a very small minority? Perhaps public school officials would develop a deeper respect for natural resource industries and other revenue generating enterprises if their funding were directly dependent upon it.

At the very least, it would seem that if the State Land Board is not going to fulfill the intent of the "land trust" they hold, they should be required to sell off the lands so they can be returned to the tax base and relieve Montana taxpayers of some of the burden.

One things for sure, the State Land Board should be embarrassed about the $120 million, rather than bragging that it increased $80 million since 2004. There's nothing to brag about in short changing our children of the kind of superb education that the state founders envisioned.

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