Montana Republicans are asking the Department of Commerce to target Oregon businesses in an advertising blitz that looks to steal jobs and promote Big Sky Country as a friendlier place to do business.
State Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, wrote a letter to the Department of Commerce, asking director Anthony Preite to target Oregon businesses and ask them to relocate to Montana and bring their jobs with them.
The letter comes in the wake of a bill passed by Oregon voters that will raise taxes there by $733 million through increases to the corporate minimum tax, a tax on high-income earners, and a higher income tax on businesses.
Forty-five Montana Republicans signed the letter, including 21 GOP candidates. The Department of Commerce, however, said Friday it had not seen the letter yet and declined to comment until it did.
“States do offer various competitive advantages, and we do compete in terms of lifestyle matters, tax policies and all the things individuals and businesses consider when they choose where they live and work,” Essmann said Friday.
Essmann said Oregon had taken a “higher-tax path” to the detriment of good business. And while Montana’s own tax system isn’t perfect, he added, it does offer a favorable tax policy when compared to Oregon.
Among the advantages, Essmann named Montana’s top marginal income tax. He said it helps small businesses retain capital and reinvest it, making it possible to expand and hire new employees.
“We need to leverage every competitive advantage we can,” Essmann said. “We think now is the time, when we have a need for more jobs — and with small business in Oregon feeling under duress — to advertise the availability and the quality of our work force, and have Oregon businesses take a look.”
Montana wouldn’t be the first state to exploit another state’s business climate when times get tough. Last summer, Nevada ran a series of newspaper, television and radio ads trying to lure California businesses over to the Silver State.
Nevada, like several surrounding states, focused on California’s reputation as a high-cost and highly regulated place to conduct business.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Nevada campaign promoted the state’s lack of a corporate and personal income tax and its absence of an “inventory tax,” along with its low workers’ compensation costs.
A light-industrial facility that costs $405,478 a year to operate in Las Vegas would cost $625,774 to run in Los Angeles County, the Times reported, citing the Nevada Development Authority as its source.
“I think that everything we do as a Legislature — every action we take — should be aimed at getting more jobs in Montana,” said state Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, who signed the letter. “When I’m asked about our number one priority, it has to be jobs.”
A regular reader of The Oregonian, Lewis has followed the debate on the state’s tax increase throughout the process. He noted that its opponents, including The Oregonian and Nike Inc., which billed the increase as “assisted suicide” for Oregon businesses.
“Measures 66 and 67 should be labeled Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law II,” Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight wrote. “They will allow us to watch a state slowly killing itself. They are anti-business, anti-success, anti-inspirational, anti-humanitarian, and most ironically, in the long run, they will deprive the state of tax revenue, not increase it.”
Supporters of the Oregon tax measure billed it as “greed versus need.”
Republicans in Montana hope the split in Oregon’s electorate and the resulting tax increase benefits Montanans looking for work. Jobs here are tight, Lewis said, noting the recent closure of the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp mill in Frenchtown, among other job losses.
Recently, he added, his granddaughter was told she was one of 700 applicants to apply for a job at Helena’s new Buffalo Wild Wings. With all that in mind, he asked, why not try and lure Oregon’s jobs to Montana if that state’s businesses are so unhappy?
“I think there may be some midsized or supply-type jobs there that may be looking at their options right now,” Lewis said. “I’m sure we’re going to be seeing our unemployment inch up in Montana. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it — it’s jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Essmann said the Montana GOP had circulated the letter within its caucus. There are no Democratic signatures attached to the letter, but Essmann said he welcomes them to join the push in soliciting Oregon’s jobs.
David Benson, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said Friday he had not seen the letter signed by Montana Republicans and couldn’t comment until he did.