State Legislature 2020: Chris Friedel
I grew up learning about this country’s founding fathers and about Abraham Lincoln. I watched old videos of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. I saw ordinary people achieve extraordinary things for their community. I saw them step forward in uncertain times to make decisions, drawing a “line in the sand,” you
could say. As to your question “why?,” I am concerned for my children and for the children of Billings. I want to solve today’s problems so that they won’t have to deal with them. Their future is my inspiration.
The issues that I believe we need to address first are public safety, education, economics, out-of-control state spending, and the mismanagement of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Addressing these issues realistically will change our communities for the better.
It is relatively rare that a political decision made by the legislature is an easy one. There are many competing needs for the same dollars, and I do not take lightly the decisions that must be made regarding their allocation. With the impact of COVID-19 on our state’s economy and its likely effects for the next biennium or two, policy decisions to address immediate needs will be more important than ones designed to address long-term needs. While I am generally a person who thinks long-term, for the next legislative session or two, we will need to ensure that our state’s existing services and infrastructure can be maintained as well as possible, given likely reduced tax revenue.
The approach that I have used in the past and will continue to take will be to listen to my constituents. By listening to my constituents I will learn what issues they believe need to be addressed and what they would like to see happen. I will then formulate a plan to attain these goals and work on them in Helena.
I know that all people have their viewpoints. I would like to think that each legislator is willing to work together with other members of the Legislature to do what is best for our communities; that way, the people of Montana win. During my time on the Billings City Council, my approach was to use my skill set to solve the city’s issues by working with other members of the council to come up with solutions in a way that benefited the people of Billings.
I am willing to entertain all ideas about this subject, as I know that the taxpayers are at their wits’ end with our imbalanced tax structure. One key focus of mine will be a cost-saving approach to spending. While serving on the Billings City Council, I saw projects performed by private companies cost a fraction of what the government pays for projects to be done.
I think it is unnecessary to pass new laws relating to a temporary situation like the COVID-19 issue; the existing laws protecting employees also seem to be sufficient in protecting employers who are not willfully and recklessly putting employees’ health and safety at risk.
I wonder if legislators would have passed the Medicaid expansion bill in 2015 if they had known that it is now projected to cost the taxpayers $1.2 billion in the next biennium. This is nearly double the cost that was projected just five years ago. The Medicaid program prior to 2015 generally met the needs of the uninsured. Had I been a member of the Legislature in 2015, my approach would have been different. I would have worked to eliminate inefficiencies in the program and add enhancements to meet the needs of those who had no other options. Work requirements for the able-bodied and asset testing are good things to ensure that the Medicaid program is there for those who need it. My worry is that because the program has turned out to be so costly, drastic cuts in it may be necessary to meet the constitutional requirement that state expenditures not exceed revenues.
As General Manager of an alcohol and drug testing clinic, I am intimately acquainted with the problem of addiction and mental health (We need to rethink the entire attitude towards mental health and addiction treatment and address the real issue of brain health) problems that often accompany it. Existing treatment programs fail far too many people, and throwing more money at these programs will not make them better. The issue is not one of funding, but of effectiveness. I have seen first-hand how a comprehensive approach to the problem of addiction, one that takes into account the effects of physical and emotional trauma, helps people recover and lead healthy lives. We need to rethink this whole issue at the state level. I have the experience and the skill to persuade the Legislature to take a real-world approach to it, and once the state has done this, local government will follow suit.
I believe in policies that encourage private investment rather than ones that use taxpayer dollars to entice investors. Government should create opportunities for private investment to flourish, e.g. reduce burdensome regulations and taxes, and not try to take the lead when it comes to development. Private enterprise and entrepreneurship have a much better track record on creating wealth than government does. While I generally support SB 340 [the 406 Impact District bill], my ultimate support is behind those individuals who are willing to take the risk to build or expand a business without relying on taxpayer dollars to do so.
This is a membership communication paid for by the Billings Chamber of Commerce and provided for the benefit of our members.