Pioneer Op-Eds/Letters for April 2013
Prolonged Downtown Business Closures Send Negative Message
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
In Montana towns like Living-ston, Bozeman, Belgrade, Big Timber, Gardiner, etc., the commitment of people who invest in the town is noticeably more crucial than in, say, Seattle, where the economy is infinitely more resilient due to its size (though the same principle holds true).
In Livingston, a community of just 7,000, each business has significance, especially those located downtown. Take for example the 2nd Street Bistro. Such an estab-lishment is important to the over all sense of local economic viability, a place where people meet and eat, as its vitality projects through large bright windows revealing they are open for business, that an owner endowed with entrepreneurial and community spirit has something worthwhile to offer the town in which he lives. Same goes for others: Adagio, The Sport, Rick’s on Main, and Montana’s Rib & Chop House which attracts plenty of customers and commerce all winter long, helping to sustain a small town.
In Bozeman, viable independent businesses that serve as public gathering places, and those anticipated (the upcoming Open Range and the new Boodles, both on Main Street) give local character and definition to a town that big box and chain stores never will (and which, in fact, often detract from that character).
Now, imagine a prominent downtown location, a historic establishment on a strategic corner that people had frequented for years, that instead remains closed, no activity, lights out, shades drawn, conveying a sense of economic failure.
The closure of high profile businesses send a billboard-like message (true or not) saying things aren’t going well, not just for the business, but for the town. They suggest the town is not economically viable. Investors of all kinds, including tourists, then think twice before laying down cash.
The Livingston Bar & Grill, at Park and Main, will now this season have been closed for four years, if the business remains closed through spring and summer 2013, and so far there are no indications it will open (nor is it for sale). The bar had been open for two years, until recently, mitigating the effect of the restau-rant closure, but in a minor way (Montana liquor licenses cannot remain idle for over a year, a fact that weighs on decisions to open a bar). The shuttered restaurant on a prominent corner still projects an image that does not benefit the town, as it has for years, suggesting Livingston itself is not open for business, and it’s time that reality were emphasized, though it has long been obvious to those who take an interest in their community.
Similarly, the prolonged closure of The Owl lounge in downtown Liv-ingston, once a community mainstay, is a sad thing. The old Guest House hotel, too, now a white elephant of unfinished condos, sitting across from the closed LBG, also creates a dismal impression.
In contrast, the Mint Bar, at Main and Calendar, with its historical renovation and creative new pub menu, speaks of investment and positivity (as do a dozen or so other downtown pubs and eateries).
A prolonged closure though, like that of the LBG (and the Owl) remains a disappointment to visitors and locals who frequented the place over the years—during the first two years in which the present owners had their doors open, and for decades prior. Time and again, would-be diners stopped in the bar over the last two years (often returning after visiting Livingston in prior seasons), asking if the restaurant was open, only to be turned away.
In the days of the Old West, when the streets of Livingston were unpaved and in spring turned to a sea of mud, the location functioned as Carver’s Mercantile, where Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane, purchased clothes on the county’s dime (the reason is unclear, but a receipt bears this out). Later, the place was run by “Madam Bulldog” as the legendary Bucket of Blood Saloon, which Calamity apparently frequented. In the 1960s and ‘70s, it was Pugliano’s grocery store, and then the Ten and a 1/2 Saloon.
In recent decades, it had been a gathering place during the spring and summer tourist season, when it was owned by Russell Chatham, and Mike Owen before him, and a cozy haven throughout the winter (especially with Chatham’s snazzy remodel, now expunged, though not from the minds of nostalgic former patrons), as both Chatham and Owen kept their doors open year round. It was also where the crew of a River Runs Through It regularly met after a day of shooting, according to the film’s fly fishing advisor, John Dietsch, who on his return to town in recent years looked forward to visiting the Bar & Grill, as it was called, but found it quite different (he told us) after the most recent owners remodeled Chatham’s interior and moved the bar into a side room (they also refurbished the exterior).
Friday nights at the Bar & Grill were in those days a lively social event, as was New Year’s Eve, along with the aftermath of the July 2nd Parade, and many summer eves, as were a great many other occasions that have now faded into the past like the days of Calamity Jane.
Such are the times we live in, some say, citing the economy as the reason for the LBG’s prolonged closure, but that would be incorrect. The LBG remains closed, off limits to hundreds of people who once frequented it, rather, as a decision of the absentee owners, one that has drawn criticism around town.
Having run the business with support from locals and visitors for two years of operation, the newest owners subsequently did not reopen after the 2009 season, and the LBG has remained closed since that time, with the exception of the bar, which was opened for about 2 years, then was recently closed again.
One of the owners, Patrick Gilligan, responded to the Pioneer when we recently inquired as to the reason the LBG has remained closed. Gilligan told us he and his partners purchased the property from Chatham, then renovated, and that their “intent wasn't necessarily to make money but to provide…an option different than the 2nd Street Bistro and Rib & Chop House.”
Gilligan told us his partnership hired a chef from Colorado, “a fine practitioner” who he said had difficulty meeting the needs of locals. “After his tenure and up until now we haven't found the ideal entre-preneurial chef who would, in our mind, fit the bill—even though we got close a couple of times.”
That process has dragged on into its fourth year, puzzling former patrons and those with a personal or financial interest in the town. Several talented chefs asked to prepare menus and business plans (including recently), having not heard back from the owners, moved on, and either opened restaurants themselves or were hired to do so.
Meanwhile, a once lively commu-nity establishment and center piece of the town remains closed, with no opening in sight.
Warning: Medicaid Expansion May Be Hazardous to Your Health
BY JOE BALYEAT
If a[n] [insurance] mandate was the solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house.
—Sen. Barack Obama, 2007
Growing up in a family of fourteen, my parents taught us important life lessons. One lesson driven home repeatedly was—if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Such is the ObamaCare deal. Everybody will be forced to buy health insurance, and that will magically mean better healthcare.
ObamaCare's Medicaid component is particu-larly egregious for Montanans. They're going to vastly dis-incentivize anyone becoming a doctor (or continuing as a doctor) by greatly increasing their patient work load, telling them they must charge less for treatments, and inserting the federal bureaucracy between doctors and patients, so doctors can't prescribe their best preferred, individualized treatment, but can only do what Medicaid pays for. They're going to “steer” 1 in 4 Americans onto a broken Medicaid system designed only to provide stopgap emergency care to the poorest among us. They then expect healthcare to improve—and in rural Montana which already has a doctor shortage and problems attracting new doctors. If you believe that, I've got ocean-front property in Ekalaka to sell you.
Hospitals, having made a devil's bargain in supporting ObamaCare, will be aggressively pushing our Legislature for Montana Medicaid expansion—not because it means better healthcare for Montanans, but because it means better profits for hospitals. But here's what we already know about the poor quality of Medicaid. Recent studies reveal this startling fact: Health outcomes for Medicaid patients are not only far worse than health outcomes for privately insured patients, sometimes they're even worse than outcomes for uninsured patients. Here's the data:
- Medicaid patients are 7 times more likely to be rejected from a family physician than privately-insured patients. Only 53 percent of doctors say they accept new Medicaid patients. Obama-Care will make healthcare access worse. (Center for Studying Health System Change, Health Tracking Physicians Survey)
- Surgical patients on Medicaid are 13 percent more likely to die than even uninsured patients and 97 percent more likely to die than privately-insured patients. Patient Health Outcomes will be worse. (University of Virginia study)
- Individuals on Medicaid who have coronary artery bypass surgery are 50 percent more likely to die than patients with private coverage or Medicare. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2005)
- Medicaid cancer patients are 2 to 3 times more likely to pass away than other patients. (Journal Cancer 2005)
Note the key fact—Medicaid patients are far more likely to die than even uninsured patients. And because Medicaid is means tested, Montana's low wages could result in up to 1 in 3 Montanans eventually steered into this broken system, as the cost of private insurance skyrockets due to all the “wish-list” mandates liberal politicians crammed into Obamacare insurance. Obama's 2007 argument has been redoubled—Let's not only force the homeless to buy a house, let's force them to buy a mansion. Then consider the enormous cost of Medicaid that will be foisted on taxpayers. By 2020, Medicaid will expand to cover 85 million Americans at a cost of $870 billion annually. As PJ O'Rourke warned, You think healthcare is expen-sive now—just wait until it's free.
Why did Montana Sen. Max Baucus (as Finance Chairman) design such a tragedy for Montanans, and why did Montana Sen. Jon Tester cast the deciding vote in favor of it? DC politicians buy and sell deals “too good to be true” daily. Helena politicians should not follow suit. Medicaid expansion must be rejected, for better patient health, and better taxpayer fiscal health. Stand up and make your voice heard in Helena.
Joe Balyeat served as Chairman of the Montana Senate committee overseeing health insurance mandates. He now serves as State Direc-tor of Americans For Prosperity; and is a founder of the Montana Medical Free Choice Coalition.
Medicaid Expansion, It’s What’s Best for Montana
BY KRISTIE SMITH
Medicaid Expansion is an opportunity for a healthier, more prosperous Montana. It's what's best for Montana. Expanding health care protects our neighbors, providers, and our community hospitals. In Montana, our rural and safety-net facilities continue to be pushed toward the breaking point by the ever-growing costs of caring for the uninsured. By accepting federal dollars to expand access to health care to over 60,000 Montanans, we can avoid the increased insurance premiums and other costs we all incur when those without insurance show up in our emergency rooms and provider offices.
The math matters. The first three years of expansion are completely covered by the federal government with dollars Montana taxpayers and health care providers are already paying. After that, Montana's contributions are relatively small. When you consider reductions in the costs of caring for the uninsured, and the effects of increased economic activity, expanding health care could actually save Montana money.
It creates jobs and boosts our economy. As newly insured Montanans seek health care, there will be an increase in the demand for doctors, nurses, and medical support staff.
Health care providers can hire new employees, who will then spend their paychecks in local businesses. These additional dollars flowing on Main Streets across Montana allow our businesses to grow. Estimates show expanding Medicaid could add 14,000 jobs and generate $4 billion in labor income in Montana. So, what starts as a small investment in Medicaid expansion actually triggers a chain reaction of economic activity across our state.
The money is there. Montana taxpayers and providers have actually been helping to pay for expansion since 2008. From lower provider payments for Medicare and Medicaid, to taxes on certain health plans and fees for employers who fail to provide insurance, the federal government has established multiple funding streams that cover the costs of expansion. Expanding Medicaid is Montana's opportunity to get back the money we've already been paying and will continue to pay. If we don't take those dollars, they will be redirected to other states like New Jersey and California to generate jobs and provide health care for their residents.
It's an investment in our workers and vital industries. Extending access to health care through Medicaid expansion has an incredible impact on Montana's core industries. Providing coverage to our currently uninsured ranchers, hotel and restaurant staff, child care workers, and caregivers for the elderly means these employees go to work healthy and miss work less often. Also, with access to the care they need, these employees can be more productive, helping to grow Montana's businesses and make them more competitive. Medicaid expansion is an investment in the workers and businesses that make Montana Montana.
We can't let families fall in the gap. Starting soon, many people with higher incomes will receive tax credits to help them afford private health insurance. In states that choose expansion, individuals with lower incomes will be able to access coverage through Medicaid. However, if Montana turns down the federal dollars, this group of lower income earners will actually fall into a 'coverage gap.' In other words, they will earn too little to get tax credits to help them purchase private insurance, but too much to qualify for the old standards of Medicaid. The end result is tens of thousands of Montana families who will continue to be uninsured, putting their health and financial futures at risk.
- 60,000 Montanans could gain access to health care.
- Expanding health care could create 14,000 jobs annually as millions of federal dollars flow into state and local economies.
- The cost to the state is minimal. In fact, Montana could save money.
- Workers in Montana's core industries like ranching, recreation, and tourism benefit most.
Kristie Smith serves as Director of Public Affairs for the Montana Budget and Policy Center in Helena.
Letters to the Editor
Empire Building vs. Student Debt
A university is not of buildings made. The Montana Sate University administration, state government, and various associated interests are invested in constructing an empire. They seem to be on a quest to build ever more edifices/buildings on the MSU campus.
Just last fall the University announced it was planning on constructing a new $25 million business school, while it has been working on $76.6 million worth of construction projects. Another $52 million was spent on several capital projects beginning in 2009 and completed in 2011. The Governor has recently announced plans to spend $100 million on campus improvements across the state with matching funds from the institutions of $56.5 million. No matter the merits or folly of any one of these construction projects, advocates will stand wide-eyed before us and declare every dollar well spent—a necessity, in fact.
I know about this game, having designed hospitals for many years for empire building hospital administrators.
In a time of economic crisis not experienced since the Great Depression, which has left millions of families devastated economically and resulted in trillions of dollars spent propping up morally dubious financial institutions, we seem to find plenty of money to continue building on the MSU campus. This economic recession/depression has wiped out trillions of dollars in families' savings either through home prices crashing or retirement savings disappearing. Bankruptcies and foreclosure are visited daily on families.
As a direct result, folks are struggling as never before trying to afford a university education for their children. Student debt now exceeds the total credit card debt in this country. A moral crisis is facing us every day. Borrowers who have just left school are struggling to find jobs in the weak economy. The Pew Research Center estimates that nearly one in five households is paying off student-loan debt. Earlier this year, an advocacy group, Young Invincibles, published a report about how student-loan debt is holding back the housing recovery. Headlines every week continue to call our attention to the many shocking aspects of this crisis.
So, the MSU President and state governor march from one end of this state to the other declaring the righteousness of their empire building and finding ever new projects to absorb ever more millions of dollars of capital. And once in a while they will get an article published offering a perspective on the affordability of an education at MSU compared with other institutions across the country. President Cruzado was probably hired to do just that and thinks she is doing a fine job. Many would agree.
The psychology of empire building is very strong indeed and is the crux of this issue. Maybe a few hundred people in a state of a million make these decisions. The Governor, the Legislature and the Administration of the school are the decision makers. The need for these folks, who are invested in power, to leave a highly visible and lasting legacy compels them in life. “If I can create this legacy I will not die…I will live forever...I will outsmart God.” Hard to get MSU President, Waded Cruzado, and Governor Steve Bullock, to lay down the grand theistic bargaining strategy. What chance does forgiving a few $100 million worth of student loans to anonymous students have against living forever?
I just grit my teeth in the face of these ongoing decisions to spend on capital projects in a time of economic crisis for students. I am incredulous at the lack of debate about how all these hundreds of millions may be better spent on reducing the student loan debt crisis. A real debate. An existential debate. A debate on whether to spend for a shiny new chrome and glass business college building or for reducing student needs for loans. What are the merits: pro and con? What do we really want? What will benefit the state more?
Eventually, when this country comes to its senses and starts fully funding education, as it deserves to be (and as it once was), we can once again begin to serve the 'empire builders' amongst us with money for monuments.
However, the next several years would be well served by beginning with a debate on a re-evaluation and on rebalancing expenditures at MSU.
An education is not of buildings made either.
Master of Architecture, MSU
Bill Would End Confusion Over Physician Assisted Suicide
The Montana legislature is considering the question of Physician Assisted Suicide. The Senate has rejected an Oregon style bill that would have legalized such a practice. The House has passed HB 505, which will end the confusion about assisted suicide in Montana by stating it is illegal. I am in favor of this bill and wish to correct misconceptions recently expressed in a viewpoint article published within the past month in several Montana newspapers.
HB 505 seeks to clarify the relevant law, which has been misinterpreted as a result of the Montana Supreme Court Baxter decision of 2009. This decision did not legalize physician assisted suicide, contrary to claims made by authors of the viewpoint article. The court only stated that a patient's consent, if given, may be used as a legal defense. Lawyers are scratching their heads about the meaning and the ramifications of this decision, which is why the legislature should act to provide needed clarity. HB 505 only addresses the aiding or solicitation of suicide, including physician assisted suicide. It specifically does not include end of life palliative care in which a dying person receives medication to alleviate pain or any act to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment authorized by the Montana Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. Passage of HB 505 would leave these rights unchanged.
Please contact your Senator by calling (406) 444-4800 and tell them to end the confusion. Please tell them to vote YES on HB 505.
Rick Blevins, MD
Great Falls, MT