- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Great Falls Tribune, June 6, on Col. Lee Smith

“We will not put a second best in command of Montana,” Maj. Gen. Matthew T. Quinn was told during the Montana Air National Guard’s search in 2014 to find a commander to lead the 120th Airlift transition.

And that promise was kept.

Saturday Col. Lee Smith, who assumed the command position just 26 months ago, was awarded the Montana Distinguished Service Medal. He is transferring to Scott Air Force Base in St. Louis with his family, where he will be attached as an officer with the Inspector General’s Office.

Smith previously served as the vice commander of the 86th Airlift Wing in Ramstein, Germany, and had the unique distinction of becoming only the second “dual-status” commander in Air Mobility Command.

During his tour in Montana, Smith served in both active U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard concurrently, a status that required clearance from both the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the governor of Montana.

“Coming in as a C-130 pilot to a historically Guard unit was a little daunting in and of itself,” Smith said. “It was a big culture change for me.”

During Smith’s two-year tenure, the 120th Airlift Wing’s mission transitioned from a training operation for the F-15 fighter aircraft to a training and operations mission for C-130 transport aircraft, so 55 percent of the 836 airmen required new training - while still carrying out their old jobs. That task was completed in October 2016. Along the way, the 120th Airlift Wing also completed a $24 million project to build a new hangar and renovate its existing one, and received back-to-back Air Force Outstanding Unit awards.

Clearly, he was ready for those challenges.

Taking Smith’s command position with the 120th Airlift Wing is Col. Buel Dickson. Dickson has served for more than 30 years as a member of the Montana Air National Guard. His resume includes service as a command pilot with aeronautical ratings in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-15 Eagle and the C-130 Hercules.

Dickson is also combat proven, with tours of duty in both Saudi Arabia during Operation Southern Watch and Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Colonel Dickson brings a vast knowledge of Air Force operations,” said Brigadier General Bryan P. Fox. “In addition to over 3,000 flight and flying hours, he has commanded at the flight, squadron and group level. He has performed as chief of safety, exercise evaluation team chief, Deputy JD3 at joint force headquarters in Helena and most recently completed a tour with the Air National Guard Bureau and A4 Director.”

We thank Smith for his skillful leadership during a transition that was transformational at MANG. The announcement that Montana’s military flying mission would transition from fighter jets to cargo planes took some getting used to, but we were relieved to see those huge military aircraft in our skies. MANG represents a significant employer and part of our economy in northcentral Montana.

Editorial: https://gftrib.com/2qXcfQm

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 4, on state infrastructure needs

Some Republican state lawmakers recognize the failings of the most recent Legislature and have continued to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock over calling a special session to authorize bonding for infrastructure projects.

But at the end of the day, there’s no evidence anyone has changed their mind, and a special session would likely be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

That’s disappointing.

It takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to authorize the state to issue bonds as a source of funding. And while an overwhelming majority of senators voted in favor of the action, a stubborn minority of House GOP representatives blocked it in the waning days of general session in April.

Interest rates continue to hover at historic lows and failing to take advantage of them is letting a great opportunity go to waste.

The legislation would have provided cheap money for repairing aging public school buildings and community water systems around the state. It would also have paid for a new state Heritage Center in Helena, a veterans’ home in Butte and renovation of Romney Hall on the Montana State University campus that would have provided badly needed classroom space.

The knot of representatives who are standing in the way contend these projects aren’t necessary. Conventional wisdom suggests the real reason is jealousy that the funded aren’t in the lawmakers’ respective backyards. If they can’t get it in their hometowns, nobody can.

That’s the kind of provincial thinking that has historically stymied real progress that will benefit all.

The new state heritage center would benefit all Montanans who would learn about their history and publicly owned artifacts when they visit Helena. The veterans home would provide services for so many who have given so much in defense of our country. And the Romney Hall classrooms would serve students who come from all over the state to get the only affordable higher education available to them.

Failing to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates for these projects is shortsighted in the extreme.

Changes coming from Washington on health care may force a special session before lawmakers meet in the next general session in 2019. Here’s hoping at least some lawmakers change their minds and get this badly needed infrastructure bill passed if and when that happens.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2rBOIam

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Independent Record, June 2, on possibility of more state budget cuts

On the heels of a particularly difficult legislative session marked by deep budget cuts, the last thing Montanans need right now is another reduction to critical state programs and services.

But unless state tax collections pick up by the time the fiscal year ends July 1, that’s exactly what will happen.

A recent report from the Legislative Fiscal Division shows state tax collections were 3.8 percent lower than legislators predicted when they built the two-year budget. Low individual income tax collections are blamed for most of the decrease.

A bill passed this legislative session will require the state to make up for a tax revenue shortfall by making cuts to certain programs and services, starting with the fire fund. The Montana Historical Society Research Center, tourism and agriculture marketing, library programs and the Native language preservation could also see budget reductions if certain triggers are reached.

With the legislative session still fresh in their memories, cuts like these would not be easy for Montanans to stomach. And we hope it doesn’t come to that when the final revenue report comes in later this summer.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2sgzRmM

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