- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Great Falls Tribune, Oct. 17, on a transit service for veterans:

To say we are surprised would be to stretch the truth. To say we are thrilled is an understatement.

Within hours of the Tribune reporting that a program, funded by private donations and providing free Great Falls Transit System bus rides for veterans, was out of money and ended - Great Falls responded.

The program, now called Veterans Ride Free Program, is up and running again.

“I’m so proud we live in a community that responds to a need,” said Mayor Bob Kelly, who fielded calls and emails of donation offers Tuesday. “The generosity and concern of Great Falls never fails to amaze me. I think the veterans in our community have always held a special place in our hearts, not only because of their service, but because of what we see with the two (military) bases. They should be respected and rewarded, and we hold that near and dear.”

By noon Tuesday, individuals, businesses and nonprofits donated enough money to cover the costs of the operation for more than six months.

In the Tribune’s poll, which asked “Should the city subsidize bus rides for disabled veterans?” 83 percent of those who responded answered yes.

Private donations mean that isn’t necessary.

The fare to ride a Great Falls Transit District is $1 and 50 cents for seniors.

Fiscal year 2017 saw more 13,000 rides for veterans through the program, up from 11,000 in 2015. The transit also offered free rides to veterans in vans when buses aren’t equipped for their disabilities.

Jim Donahue, a Great Falls veteran and volunteer at the local Disabled American Veterans office, takes the bus to work. Sometimes he has some car trouble, sometimes his medication limits his ability to drive, so he takes the Great Falls Transit bus downtown to the DAV office.

To allow the program to be shuttered was a mistake, and the community corrected that misstep immediately.

Joe Parsetich, local chapter commander and National 4th Jr. Vice Commander for the DAV, said he was getting calls and messages from local folks looking to donate before he put his pants on Tuesday morning.

“With the funds donated so far, we’re able to restart the program,” Parsetich said. “With the ongoing donations, we can keep it going.”

“Disabled veterans have given much for our freedom,” Aaron Weissman, owner of Teriyaki Madness, wrote to the Tribune in an email on Tuesday. “A few dollars so that they can ride the bus is a very small price to pay.”

“Embark supports critical needs and projects in the Great Falls area and we know that having reliable transportation is essential,” Embark Credit Union President and CEO Debra Evans wrote in another email on Tuesday. “It is particularly critical for ensuring veterans are able to get to necessary medical appointments. With the approach of the winter weather season, we wanted to do our part to ensure this program is able to restart and provide transportation.”

“The outpouring and love and support for the veterans of our community makes me proud to be a Montana veteran in Great Falls,” Parsetich said.

Editorial: https://gftrib.com/2zycvK0

___

Billings Gazette, Oct. 17, on Interior Secretary Zinke’s flag:

How many of us remember Stanley K. Hathaway?

Or Thomas S. Kleppe?

How many folks are concerned about where David Bernhardt may be?

Not exactly household names?

Hathaway and Kleppe were both secretaries of the Interior, and both came from states neighboring Montana (Hathaway from Wyoming, Kleppe from North Dakota). Both served in the mid-1970s, and now mostly reside on lists of Interior secretaries.

As for Bernhardt, he is currently deputy secretary of the Interior.

We bring their names up not as some extreme trivia question, but as the best demonstration that citizens don’t hang on every move nor every leader within the Department of the Interior.

While anyone working for the Department of the Interior deserves our thanks, especially in a place with plenty of public lands like Montana, the leaders who serve or who have served aren’t exactly a top concern or even top of mind.

Yet Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke believes that it is essential that Interior employees and the public know exactly when he is in the office. In a rather unbelievable story published in The Washington Post, Zinke has ordered that the Department of the Interior Secretary flag (yes, there is such a thing) be flown above the Interior’s office building when he is there, and taken down when he leaves.

The gesture gets repeated daily, and is a custom apparently borrowed from the military. When Zinke is not on site in D.C., a flag is flown whenever the deputy secretary is in the building.

The Washington Post reports that many of the cabinet-level secretaries have their own flags, although they haven’t been used in decades. Apparently the pretentious gesture does little more than add to wasteful government spending by buying useless flags. In addition, it also serves as a snooty reminder of just how much Zinke apparently thinks of himself - that he needs a flag to announce his arrival.

Spokeswoman Heather Swift had the chutzpah to claim that flying the flag when Zinke was in the building was a matter of accountability - you know, people can actually tell when he’s at the office.

Yet was that really the issue with voters? Do voters really believe that cabinet secretaries don’t show up at the office? We think more citizens are concerned about what Zinke does once he’s at the office, not where is he actually at.

Wasting what is probably a nominal amount on a flag that no one recognizes is problematic: That’s the entire purpose of a flag - everyone has to understand the symbol. Beyond that, government officials have to go to the work of raising and lowering a flag when Zinke is around. If that’s not a waste of government time, we don’t know what is. For an administration that pledged to redouble efforts on matters important to the American people, Zinke would do well to remember the people aren’t clamoring for more flags.

The gesture isn’t symbolic, as Zinke’s staff would have you believe, it’s exactly what’s wrong with government. No one is worried about when Zinke is in “garrison” - as his staff puts it. The Trump Administration has touted that it is draining the swamp and returning America back to the citizens. But having the heraldry of a flag announcing that Zinke is in the building is an elitism that seems more fit for royalty and demonstrates that Zinke believes a certain amount of genuflection is order.

The Washington Post reports that Zinke also has commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors. Zinke’s predecessors and some other Cabinet secretaries have coins bearing agency seals, but not personalized ones.

These actions are pompous and a betrayal of his Montana roots. Montana is the kind of place where most of us know our senators and governor by their first name. We live in a state that values face-to-face conversation that doesn’t have to happen through intermediaries and underlings. We also believe a nod, handshake or the quick honk of a horn is enough of a greeting. We don’t need flags.

Beyond the sheer arrogance it takes to announce your presence with flags, Zinke’s actions are not historic and they’re not a move toward transparency. Instead, they represent militarization of civilian government. The tradition of flying flags has its American roots in the military when commanders were on site.

While Zinke’s service in the military is admirable, secretary of Interior is not a military post. We’re not a government run by the military. This is a civilian government still. While we don’t doubt Zinke’s long military career may help him in leadership, it was not a prerequisite.

Secretary Zinke, running a flag up a flagpole may earn you a salute from your staff, but it won’t earn you respect.

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

___

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 15, on the need for a special legislative session on state budget woes:

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock delayed taking action on an anticipated nearly $230 million state budget shortfall until the relevant committee of lawmakers could weigh in on the situation at a meeting earlier this month.

And they did. The Legislative Finance Committee met for two days, hearing testimony from dozens who would be affected by what amounts to 10 percent across-the-board cuts identified by the governor’s budget director as necessary to balance the budget. Those who testified told of how they or loved ones would be negatively impacted if budget is balanced on the backs of Medicaid and health and education programs.

The lawmakers then wrote a letter to Bullock suggesting he implement the cuts that hurt the least number of people and adjourned.

Thanks.

On a conference call last Wednesday, Republican legislative leaders made it clear they believe the governor can balance the budget through cuts and that they have no intentions of calling the Legislature into special session to deal with the situation.

Bullock should take matters into his own hands at this point. He should use his authority to call the special session and get lawmakers on the record as unwilling to take even minimal action to stave off draconian cuts that will hurt real people in serious ways.

The projected budget shortfall is due to an estimated $70 million in firefighting costs from the state’s worst fire season in decades along with lower-than-anticipated fossil fuel tax collections due to an energy industry slowdown.

Lawmakers failed at their jobs when they didn’t see this coming. Rather than telling the governor to slash budgets for programs that people really need, legislators need to reconvene in Helena and find alternative solutions.

Bullock has suggested reasonable tax increases to offset the budget shortfall. These include increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol products and increased or new taxes on hotel beds and car rentals. He has also proposed a surtax on individual incomes that exceed $500,000 annually.

Yes, there are some budget cuts that can and should be made with minimal consequences. But just taking an axe to the budget is irresponsible.

Bullock should issue the call for a special session and make lawmakers do the work they were elected to do.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2yz9JXc

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