HELENA — GOP legislative leaders said they are sending 10 pieces of legislation to the governor on Thursday that help deliver on their promise to create jobs — and at the same time borrowed a shtick from Gov. Brian Schweitzer and rolled out branding irons of their own.
The Republicans used a Helena gravel pit as a backdrop to talk about a package of bills that includes looser mining and coal laws, a proposal to require the use of Montana wood products in road construction, and a plan to make medical malpractice claims more difficult.
Republican leaders now have a branding iron that reads "JOBS" to challenge Gov. Brian Schweitzer's "VETO" brand that he has used as a prop to threaten legislation he calls "kooky."
The bills sent Thursday to the governor don't include higher-profile measures sought by businesses, including the bipartisan workers' compensation insurance compromise sent to the governor this week amid the assurance Schweitzer would sign it.
And the Republican plan for a tax cut on business equipment tax cleared an initial House floor vote by a 69-31 vote on Thursday and nears completion, since it has already cleared the Senate.
The business tax cut would reduce the rate on the first $2 million in business equipment from 3 percent to 2 percent. It would be reduced further if certain economic triggers are met, and estimates say it would ultimately cost the state about $23 million a year.
Schweitzer wanted a different plan that would have abolished it for all but the biggest companies, and he could still put his stamp with an amendatory veto on the GOP plan when it hits his desk. The governor argues it is much more productive to get rid of the tax altogether for small business while requiring large multinational companies to keep paying it. Republicans counter it is fairer to just lower the tax for everyone
Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann said none of the individual bills sent to the governor Thursday will likely make a large difference on their own. But they each help different sectors of the economy, and in total push the economy in the right direction, he said.
"Nothing happens overnight," said Essmann, a Billings Republican. "There are no magic bullets in an economy that is as complex as ours."
Perhaps the largest piece of the package aims to give metal mines, such as for gold and silver, more assurances up-front they will get their environmental permits. Four tweak rules surrounding coal and gas development, another requires lawmakers and bureaucrats to consider the fiscal impact on businesses before adopting laws or rules, and another undoes a new building code requirement that basements are insulated in new home construction.
Schweitzer has used his VETO brands — three of them at last count — to great effect at events where he bashes Republican legislative ideas from the budget on down. He has already vetoed many Republican proposals — such as an attempt to undermine a piece of the federal health care law and another one on Thursday that tinkered with the way damages are awarded in civil cases with multiple defendants.
Not to be outdone, House Speaker Mike Milburn and Senate President Jim Peterson — both ranchers — unveiled a pair of JOBS brands to burnish their favored pro-business bill. The heated brands were used to emblazon two pieces of wood at the event.
"We are all about jobs," said Peterson.