Every two years Montanans fill in the ovals on our ballots and choose citizen legislators to represent our interests at the Capitol. At the end of a hurried 90 working days, the Legislature adjourns and many Montanans are left asking, “what happened?” If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
Reflecting upon the last four months, I would say the 2019 Legislative Session was one of the most productive Montana has seen in awhile. Business climate, infrastructure, economic development, public safety, and health care were all policy areas garnering wins this session. For Montanans it means more business, increased economic development, addressing safety concerns for citizens, and continuing health care coverage for nearly 10% of our population. Unfortunately, Billings’ biggest priority, the 406 Impact District bill did not pass, but generated statewide bipartisan support throughout the process.
Credit for this session’s success goes to the legislators who worked to craft bipartisan solutions to the challenges our state faces. Both Republicans and Democrats worked together on major issues to improve the lives of Montanans. A quick examination of the gridlock in DC, largely due to partisanship fights, should indicate why strict adherence to party lines is a bad idea. The “Solutions Caucus,” a group of Republicans who worked with Democrats to pass big initiatives like a bonding bill and Medicaid Expansion, are a benefit to Montana and an example to politicians in DC.
Your Billings Chamber of Commerce took action on 79 bills, working on business climate issues, public safety, infrastructure, economic development and tourism, to name a few. The Billings Chamber:
- Opposed a significant minimum wage increase, which would have nearly doubled the current minimum wage, likely chilling business growth with fewer hires.
- Opposed carbon tax proposals. While we do not discount the impacts of climate change, a global solution is required. We don’t believe putting Montana business at a competitive disadvantage to produce negligible impacts on climate change is a prudent course of action.
- Supported business tax credits to businesses hiring more than 10 employees within the first year and at least 15 in subsequent years, incentivizing businesses to create good-paying jobs.
- Supported a pair of human trafficking bills to reduce the scourge of human trafficking by increasing penalties for offenders, requiring massage parlor credentials be displayed, and creating a two-person human trafficking team at the Department of Justice, among many other things.
- Supported passage of a bonding bill with $80 million of economic development projects. If the governor signs the bill, it will be the first bonding bill to pass in a decade. It includes $9.6 million for water and wastewater projects, along with $3 million for seven bridge projects around the state.
- Supported funding for critical economic development programs, including Small Business Development Centers, the Montana Manufacturing Center and others.
- Supported a film tax credit bill to incentivize media production companies to film in Montana.
- Supported an increase in the lodging tax to construct Montana Heritage Center and add funding to tourism partners. The bill also includes $400,000 for our Moss Mansion.
The 406 Impact Districts bill (related to One Big Sky District), sponsored and supported by many of our legislators, including Senators Roger Webb and Margie MacDonald, did not pass this session. However, many legislators from around the state recognized the potential of this new model of funding economic development and it is very likely to draw larger statewide interest and support in 2021.
Thank you to our citizen legislators who worked hard to find solutions and make Montana the best place to live, work and play.
Daniel Brooks is business advocacy manager for the Billings Chamber of Commerce.