HD-5: Democrat looks to tackle affordable housing crisis

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Dave Fern

Age: 65

Party: Democrat, incumbent

Family: Spouse, Heather, married 36 years, and three children

Education: Community College of Rhode Island, Ithaca College

Occupation: Small business owner, Chimney Solutions

Background: One term in the Montana Legislature; eight terms on the Whitefish School Board, served as chairman; Montana School Boards Association board of directors; seven years overseeing sports and activities for the Montana High School Association.

Q. A slate of budget cuts were made in 2017 to address a $227 million shortfall caused by less than anticipated revenue and an expensive fire season. What should the priorities be in the state budget in the next legislative session?

A. Restoration of the budget cuts through the Budget Stabilization Act, triggered by a return to expected income-tax collections allows us a healthier new base budget as we anticipate the 2019 session.

Services to our neediest citizens, including developmentally disabled, those who are mentally ill, the foster-care system, Child Protective Services, home and community care Medicaid waivers, additional attorneys to assist with the public defender system warrant additional funding to re-establish a base before the cuts, along with necessary increases to service such needs.

Q. Do you support a sales tax or other tax increases as a way to shore up the budget and increase revenue?

A. I support a sales tax only if it is structured to maximize collections from tourists and electronic commerce and return dollars to residents and not impact the purchasing of items of necessity. This might be accomplished through the funding of the state’s earned income tax credit, providing a state income tax credit, developing comprehensive residential property tax reform through a circuit breaker system that returns money when income is unable to keep up with appraisals. A tax system should reflect economic trends within the state and address regressive elements of tax collection.

Q. Montana’s Medicaid expansion program is set to expire in 2019. Should the state renew this program?

A. I believe the state should renew the program. A high percentage of uninsured leads to poor health outcomes, lost work, overuse of emergency rooms and a shorter life expectancy. I would support reasonable rules to encourage Medicaid recipients to increase their earning potential through additional education, available apprenticeships and vocational counseling. I do not support punitive actions that might punish hard-working, low-income Montanans. I am hopeful that renewal of Medicaid will boost the number of health-care professionals, additional payroll into the economy and increased collection of income taxes. I also expect the renewal to fortify rural hospitals, which leads to healthy communities.

Q. Which other issues would you like to see addressed by the Legislature?

A. The Local Government Interim Committee passed bills dealing with affordable housing and emergency services in the state. The state lacks an adequate inventory of affordable housing. Volunteer firefighters and EMTs are at a premium and we hope to develop strategies to increase their numbers. We have a ways to go in developing educational opportunities and apprenticeships yielding improved workforce readiness and improved wages. Cities and towns need additional resources to keep up with infrastructure and emergency services. I support the expansion of the resort tax to local option taxes. Only with voter approval could such a tax be implemented.

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