The Helena-based The Policy Institute released a report last week on Montana legislators. The 17-page report “Profiles in Hypocrisy: Montana Legislators Assail Government Spending While Benefitting from Farm Subsidy Programs” has some unsettling news for many critics of federally funded programs.
The report profiled 33 legislators between 1995 and 2009. Many of them are harsh critics of government spending. The one program they all agree on is farm subsidies. Sixteen of those legislators received subsidies in excess of $100,000. Six took federal payments in excess of $500,000. One State Senator, Janna Taylor, collected over one million dollars from the federal government for her farm.
Of the 33 legislators, 30 were Republicans and three were Democrats. The Republicans collected 98.8% of the federal funds; the Democrats 1.2%.
With a clock that tallies the national debt on his website, Rep. Lee Randall expressed his view on taxes:
“[T]here are many people that I don’t see eye to eye with in Helena. People that would rather take your hard earned dollar through taxes so they can spend it the way they deem fit.”
Randall received over $507,674 for his cattle ranch. He may not like a lot of government spending, but when it goes to his farm he deems that fit.
Senator Llew Jones received $609,508 for his ranch. He is no stranger to milking the government cow. Last year, Jones took the initiative to carve out $475,000 of stimulus funds for a biomass energy study. While that probably sounds like a good idea to most people, it sounded even better to Jones. He joined a group investors that grabbed $300,000 of those funds for their own biomass company.
Jones has a conscience though. He first asked the state’s ethics chief if it was okay for him to take the bulk of the funds he helped set aside. Apparently, it is legal.
Not even House Republican leader Scott Sales could stomach his fellow Republican’s insider dealing. Sales said the deal “just stinks to high heaven.”
Senate President Jim Peterson received $637,547. That must have made the bills on his ranch easier to handle, but Peterson still lamented recently that “It’s tough to buy a ranch and pay for it.” Farm subsidies definitely help.
Senator Bruce Tutvedt collected $643,063 in subsidies for his farm. He must realize that business knowledge is helpful when going to the public trough. On his website, Tutvedt wrote:
“To have better government we need more legislators with business and budgeting experience to expedite the principals of smaller and more efficient government.”
That business and budgeting experience seems to have come in handy for Tutvedt, at least for balancing the books on his farm.
Rep. Austin Knudsen is a budget hawk. He suggested a simple solution to Montana’s budget problems. “All state programs need reduction, across the board,” Knudsen was quoted in The Policy Institute report. Fortunately, farm subsidies are a federal program so Knudsen will not suffer from the $705,941 he has received from Washington over the years.
Then there is the biggest welfare farmer of all — Rep. Janna Taylor. Taylor received $1,017,491 for her cattle ranch.
On her website’s weekly page, she pointed out that the legislature has not had a pay raise in five years, and she makes only $83 a day, plus a million or so. “I do not know any legislator that is in this for the money,” reported Taylor.
In February, Taylor noted that a pay plan for state workers was coming up for discussion. Her response:
“I will try to reduce the health care benefit. The unions will be unhappy so I might not be able to get this done.”
One should not take that as cold-hearted. Taylor also noted that if she got an increase in her state health benefits, then she would donate the difference to a food bank. That extra million must give a financial cushion so she can be so generous.
When the Great Fall Tribune cornered Taylor about her farm subsidy windfall, Taylor pointed the finger at Washington while claiming that it was not her fault.
“I can control state tax dollars but I can’t control federal tax dollars.”
It is tough to be a farmer-legislator in Montana when the federal bureaucrats are forcing millions of dollars into their pockets.