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Growing Montana’s Economy: Kier, Heenan, Moss, Williams, and Pettinato Explain Their Visions

This is the second in our series about the values, visions, and policies each of the Democratic nominees to replace Greg Gianforte would bring to the Congress if elected.

If you missed it, check out yesterday’s post on public lands and be sure to check in tomorrow for their take on alleviating poverty.

Question 2. What could Congress do to improve Montana’s economy? Are there any laws limiting economic growth in our state you’d work to repeal or laws that need to be passed you’d support to jump-start the Montana economy?

Grant Kier

There are two major pieces of legislation that Congress can pass this year to improve Montana’s economy. The passage of both the 2018 Farm Bill and a well-designed Federal Infrastructure Plan would both serve Montana’s state economy. Our Congressional delegation needs to be in the forefront of designing and implementing both pieces of legislation to ensure these serve our state’s needs.

Agriculture is the foundation of Montana’s economy, so it’s absolutely critical that we get a Farm Bill that works for Montana farmers and ranchers. This important piece of legislation covers a broad set of farm and food production issues, including ensuring America’s children have nutritious food, promoting rural economic development, providing crop insurance, and protecting important farm and ranchland for future generations.

Our Congressional Delegation needs to have an active voice in designing this important legislation, but it also must hold the administration accountable for delivering these programs on the ground in our communities. I am proud to have had the opportunity to do similar work with then Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to make sure that the 2014 Farm Bill was effective for the Montana producers. With a lack of predictable trade agreements and the volatility of markets and more common severe weather, the 2018 Farm Bill will be even more important to Montana’s farm and ranch families.

A Federal Infrastructure Plan would also serve as a catalyst for growing Montana’s economy, as long as it is structured to help with infrastructure that might not be profitable for corporate investors. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Montana a critical infrastructure grade of a C-, far from ideal. Our roads, bridges, dams, and schools are falling apart, and for too long we have hoped for out State Legislature to do something to address these critical needs.

We are a rural state with large infrastructure needs and limited potential to generate the revenue needed to maintain or develop new infrastructure, or to match federal funding with tolls and charges. With large influxes of tourist from around the country and world, and with many goods passing through our state into the country and the world, it is appropriate that Federal funding provide a substantial investment in Montana’s infrastructure that will payoff for generations.

Passing a Federal Infrastructure plan that doesn’t put all of the financial burden on our state and individual residents would be a tremendous boon to working Montanas, especially those in the building trades. It’s exciting to see that Congress and the Administration have shown an interest in an infrastructure plan, but I would be cautious until I see the final plan. Montana’s congressional delegation needs to advocate for an infrastructure plan that uses federal funds to directly fix our crumbling infrastructure, and not just rollback environmental regulations or give tax incentives to big corporations.

John Heenan

Congress plays a crucial role in helping to facilitate public-private partnerships to spur economic growth and innovation in Montana, and I will advocate for comprehensive strategies to create high-paying jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, and invest in the workforce. For example, we can bridge increasing employment gaps by offering more apprenticeships that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. This will position Montana workers to excel in skilled trades while alleviating many young people from crippling student loan debt.

Speaking of student loan debt, Congress can act immediately to cut interest rates on existing student loans and end government profiteering on money that is lent to young people to pay for college. Additionally, I propose that we amend the bankruptcy code to allow student loan debt to be treated like any other form of debt. Currently, it is nearly impossible to discharge this form of debt in a bankruptcy proceeding. The federal government collects enough interest and profit, earned on the backs of college-educated, hard-working and tax-paying Americans, to self-fund higher education for every American who is motivated to complete a four-year program and earn a college degree. Without the burden of student loan debt, college graduates would be able to boom Montana’s economy as they purchase homes and otherwise spend their earnings in local economies.

Finally, minimum wage needs to be a living wage, and if a living wage is $15, then we need to get there. As a small business owner, my top priority is to put Montanans into good paying jobs without hurting the ability of small businesses to thrive. No one should struggle to find work if they are willing to work hard, and no one should have to rely on food stamps while working full time. It is time for corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share and Congress needs to act to reform our tax system immediately.

Lynda Moss

As Montana’s Congresswoman, I will demand Montana receives the federal resources and services that are critical to creating opportunities for all of Montana to prosper.

Montana’s economy is diverse and reflects the talents, skills and dedication of workers across the state. Agriculture, timber and natural resources have fueled Montana’s economy and will continue to do so for years to come. The state has benefitted from the positive impacts of healthcare, finance and manufacturing. Main Street businesses and start-ups are leading the way in providing opportunities for entrepreneurs and enterprising people.

That’s why, as a Montana State Senator, I proudly sponsored and directed legislation that established the Governor’s Historic and Cultural Advisory Council to develop statewide policy recommendations. This Council grew from a modest $20,000 budget to $3 million for historic preservation grants across the state. We did this by leveraging private and public resources that have driven local economies by injecting funds and energy into preservation projects that support Main Street businesses and community development.

Critical to economic vitality is providing a system to support job opportunities for young people entering the workforce. My work on the initiative, American Jobs for American Youth, is based on collaboration and innovative cross-sector partnerships that will enable young people to have a living wage and build a foundation for success.

I will focus on policies that invest in people, policies that assist with high school graduation, access to affordable college and vocational education, mentorship or apprenticeships. I will support funding for National service opportunities including the National Conservation Corps, Americorps and Vista programs that provide on-the-job experience and training that is so important for young workers.

In addition, I will work on bi-partisan solutions to see America’s critical infrastructure systems are ready for the future and that we have 21st century policies that incorporate renewable energy and technology. Montana is the fourth largest state in America, with hundreds of thousands of miles of highways and roads. Along the Highline, from Cut Bank to Wolf Point, and from Malta to Round Up we have roads that need critical work. As your Congresswoman, I will see that Montana receives the federal dollars we need to rebuild our infrastructure — highways, bridges and airports. These projects will make Montana safer while creating good paying jobs.

Kathleen Williams

Montana’s unemployment sits at 3.9%, one indicator of a healthy state economy. However, these statistics do not take into account pockets of un- or under-employment levels that are deeply problematic, especially on our Reservations. We can do more to advance economic diversification, quality jobs, and a 21st-century workforce. Here are some specifics:

  • Fight to make the federal minimum wage a living wage, so that service workers do not need to work multiple jobs to survive.
  • Protect and strengthen the National Labor Relations Act and fight pernicious “right to work” legislation that would undermine wages and benefits for so many Montanans.
  • Maintain economic development funds, including the Rural Development program in the Farm Bill, that support our economic strategists and momentum across the state, whether at the tribal, federal, state, or local levels.
  • Sponsor legislation to correct the recent tax bill and ensure that the tax code benefits middle class and working Americans, who spend their money locally, trickling up to make the economy stronger.
  • Support public education at every turn, and work on innovative new education models such as two-year college programs and union and university apprenticeships that give Montanans cost-effective training for the jobs of the future.
  • Advance renewable energy. This industry fosters many small businesses, well-paying jobs, and helps us advance the ability to combat climate change.
  • Fix health care. Many who would start a business are hesitant to leave their current jobs if those jobs provide health care coverage for their families.
  • Support the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and protect funding for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service so that everyone in Montana has access to high-speed internet.
  • Support Congressional efforts to reinstate net neutrality, which is crucial to ensuring equal access to the internet for small businesses and average Montanans alike.
  • Protect our environment and public lands. Our stunning natural heritage attracts tourism and industry to Montana and is one of our largest advantages in creating new businesses.

My record is clear: I know how to leverage public policy to create jobs.

I was elected to the Montana State Legislature during the Great Recession. As I went door-to-door, I found many who were unemployed, hurting, and telling stories of friends and family who had to leave Montana to find another job. I worked hard to diversify our economy, including creating a new type of corporation in Montana to attract mission-driven entrepreneurs to our state, fixed our food laws to smooth them for business, passed a Cottage Food Act that created 170 new businesses and over 2,000 new Montana products in its first two years, and advanced tax policy to help our small businesses and agricultural sector. I fought to renew Montana’s film tax credit, to attract this industry to Montana in a way that pays for itself and then some. I advocated for co-locating a wind farm with a data center hub, to give Montana a competitive edge in attracting green energy markets.

In November, Greg Gianforte will claim that his opponent does not know how to create jobs. My legislative career proves that false. I have worked closely with Montana’s business community, its farmers, ranchers, and rural entrepreneurs. The Montana Chamber of Commerce honored me for my commitment to Montana’s economy. I will continue that commitment in Congress.

Jared Pettinato

Montana can invest in your tomorrow with the wind and the trees. These opportunities for exporting Montana’s renewable, natural resources will bring jobs and money into Montana to lift up our rural communities.

Imagine Montana as an island. Money flows out for cars, books, clothes, and computers. Money flows in when we sell grain, livestock, minerals, and tourism experiences. More money flowing in will grow the economy, and we can bring in more money by exporting wind energy and forest products.

I explained earlier how Montana can use the money that grows on trees to manage the forests and to reduce high-severity wildfires. That will grow jobs and expand Montana’s economy; it will restore fire to its natural role in the system; and it will make the forests healthier for the trees, the wildlife, and the people who visit. Specifically, we can increase the Forest Service’s management budget, so it can get ahead of the wildfires.

In addition, Montana can make money out of thin air with wind energy. We may run out of metals and minerals, but we’ll never run out of wind. The Treasure State is giving us its next treasure. Money from wind farms will lift up rural areas and provide good-paying, industrial jobs.

Oregon and Washington have renewable energy targets. They have demand; we have supply. New technology moves energy longer distances while losing only one-half to one-third of the energy compared to conventional technologies. This will help Montana wind compete with non-polluting energy sources closer to the cities.

Wind energy will bring jobs and money to rural Montana. The wind companies will rent land from landowners, and they will pay taxes. It will grow those rural economies. Additional taxes will help rural schools and will help Montana’s budget. Wind energy will do all of this without polluting our environment.

Thus, with the wind and the trees, we can grow Montana’s economy for the future and create good-paying, industrial jobs in rural parts of Montana.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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