Ups and Downs gives a quick take on news of the past week.
UP: Billings brand. Thanks to a lot of volunteer time from local marketing and advertising professionals, Billings has a new slogan to help promote our community. The branding project focused positive attention on how Billings residents perceive our community and how they want visitors and newcomers to see our hometown - our "trailhead."
UP: Predation compensation. The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan "Wolf Kill Bill" sponsored by by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., as part of a major public lands bill. In Montana, the bill authorizes federal money from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to boost Montana's livestock loss fund. It will also minimize wolf kills by allowing federal grants to improve fencing, improve grazing practices, and to encourage the use of guard dogs. Montana Sen. Max Baucus cosponsored the Wolf Kill Bill.
UP: Kids' health. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., joined a majority of U.S. House members in voting to renew and expand the States Children's Health Insurance Program, which now covers about 16,000 low-income Montana children. Montana voters in November approved an expansion of the state program, but implementation depends on federal support. A Senate SCHIP bill sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was approved last week by a committee he chairs and now awaits floor action.
DOWN: Farewell bonuses. Newly elected Secretary of State Linda McCulloch was right to question $58,000 in bonuses that her predecessor, Brad Johnson, had authorized to be paid to nine of his top appointed staff members. All of the intended bonus recipients ended their state jobs on Dec. 31. A state attorney provided an opinion that the bonuses aren't legal. They certainly wouldn't be fair. At least 5,000 public servants who continue to work for the state will have their pay frozen throughout the upcoming biennium, and 5,000 lower-paid workers will receive bonuses of $450 (but no other pay raise) - not thousands of dollars.
DOWN: Restricting registration. Elec-tion Day voter registration has become more popular with each subsequent election since Mon-tana lawmakers approved it in 2005. It would be poor public policy to switch back to a pre-election registration deadline, as proposed in House Bill 88. The overwhelming majority of people who testified at a hearing on HB88 last week supported retaining the present law, which 7,419 Montanans used to register and vote on Nov. 4, our most recent Election Day. That number includes 757 voters in Yellowstone County.
UP: Executive example. In a show of solidarity with state workers in difficult economic times, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch announced they will forego their pay raises this year. Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Super-intendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said they will donate their annual raises to Montana charities. State law requires that salaries for top government officials be adjusted to keep up with average salaries of their counterparts in neighboring states. Montana's elected officials are giving up or donating raises ranging from $3,200 to $10,000.