Tester checks in on Miles City

Miles City Star

by Don Cooger

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester spent the afternoon in Miles City Friday, visiting with students and touring the block devastated by the downtown fire two years ago.

Tester started the day at an assembly at Washington Middle School, followed by a trip to the Miles City Fire Department. He ended the afternoon with a question-and-answer session at the Main Street Grind.

"I always enjoy visiting Miles City," Tester said. "Miles City is impressive; it's always resilient. To get this place (Main Street Grind) up and running a year after the fire shows the kind of commitment that business people have to the future of the town. It's just a lot of fun to be here."

A group of about 15 people attended the Q & A session, with a mixture of local government officials and concerned businessmen. Tester answered questions for almost an hour, touching on topics ranging from the sewer line project to infrastructure issues to rural development.

"The money needed for these projects is hard to come by in Washington, D.C., but we're going to see what we can do," Tester said. "But the fact is there are some good things going on, things that are moving the economy forward. We just have to look at what's going on in this part of the state and build upon what's working, and try to make what isn't working work."

Mike Coryell, executive director of the Miles City Area Economic Development Council, stressed the importance of an improved infrastructure to the senator, and the dangers of cutting funding to programs such as the Treasure State Endowment Program and the Community Development Block Grant Program.

"We can't afford to build or replace water lines, sewer lines, roads, etc. without that funding," Coryell said. "While I know there has to be cuts, I just hope that is taken into account."

Tester said his office will do what it can to preserve infrastructure dollars at the federal level, though he recommended that the residents of Miles City continue to maintain constant contact with their legislators at the state level.

"We do have to have a credible long term plan for the deficit, make no mistake about it," Tester said. "What that means is let's look for opportunities to save money looking at everything. But funding needs to be available for infrastructure, education and research," Tester, who also chairs the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and recently helped create the Montana Sportsmen's Advisory Panel, also addressed the issues of property rights and wolves.

"We want projects like the [Keystone XL] pipeline, but we don't want them running over people putting the pipeline through," he said. "They can do it right. As for wolves, its more of a Montana, Idaho and Wyoming thing, tough to talk to the folks in other parts of the country and say we have a problem. They're concerned about the budget, but the truth is, wolves are a big problem and it's had its impact on livestock and on game."

Tester also gave an update on the budget woes facing our country and what the tentative plan is to alleviate it.

"There's been about $54 billion cut out of the budget that we were working on last year for 2011," he explained. "That equals out to about 12 percent of the budget. It's called discretionary spending. That deals with things like Pell Grants, Head Start programs and a lot of the economic development stuff.

"We can shave some money out of that, but we'll never get our arms around the deficit and debt just dealing with 12 percent of the budget. Time constraints are also becoming a problem. We need a longer funding period. We have to come together as the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and figure out a long-term plan for the budget," he stressed.

Tester went on to say he's been keeping tabs on the legislative session here in Montana as well, and he offered a few words of advice to his constituents in Helena.

"They just need to be careful," he said. "The governor did present a budget, and you have got to be careful. If you start cutting money for education, and I'm not saying they are or they aren't, that's just going to put the pressure on the taxpayers.

"You can't be robbing from Peter to pay Paul. If you don't fund these programs, you won't have them. They've got a tough job. I was in that environment for eight years, so I can tell you there is so much that happens, especially during the last couple weeks of the session."