By Steve Bullock
Montana currently has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, with historic low unemployment and new businesses being created at record speed.
We have a stable business climate allowing businesses across the state to grow, expand, and create more good paying jobs. And we are consistently recognized for our innovation, entrepreneurship, and Montana work ethic. Many states would welcome such economics.
These trends are by design. In the last three legislative sessions, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to craft bipartisan, fiscally responsible budgets that set the foundation for our thriving economy. The results of that work are reflected in our strong economic growth and fiscal health of our state. We put aside some of our political differences to do whatís right for all the Montanans who love and call this state home.
This session was no exception. In addition to a balanced budget, the Legislature passed some meaningful legislation that will help Montanans for years to come. Among the many successes:
ó A series of tax cuts, including for working families and low-income earners.
ó A first ever investment in publicly funded prekindergarten and continued record investments in K-12.
ó A tax credit for employers who hire apprentices, especially veterans.
ó Assistance to schools for youth suicide prevention.
ó A new office of outdoor recreation, to build on a key driver of our economy.
ó A law that will fix roads, bridges and improve highway safety, while bringing home more of our federal tax dollars.
ó A law that makes insurance companies treat mental illness the same as any other illness, so people get the care they need and deserve.
ó Updated sexual assault laws, as well as past measures to better protect our seniors and our most vulnerable children.
ó A series of laws that incentivize business and job growth, from data centers to our growing pulse crops.
Thatís not to say the session was without disappointments. Chief among these was the failure to achieve an infrastructure bill, which would have gone toward addressing local needs across the state, repairing and upgrading schools and state facilities long overdue for attention, and providing a veteransí home in Southwest Montana. A small minority of Republicans killed Republican-sponsored and backed measures. And on the very last day of the session, Republican leaders wouldnít even allow legislators to vote on a final compromise measure.
Similar games were played with voting rights.†I worked with local officials and legislators to make the May 25th special election a vote-by-mail election, to save counties money and save people time.†Again, Republican leaders played political games. They refused, for no good reason at all. And I tried to fix a glitch in the law that would have allowed disabled voters to vote using special machinery, at no cost to the state. The speaker of the House refused to allow these amendments to be considered.†It is incomprehensible to me that we would spend more money to get fewer people to vote. Montanans deserved better.
Iím disappointed legislators chose partisan politics over Montana jobs, Montana voters, and the strengths of our communities. Montanans should expect better. Because at the end of the day, the Republicans preventing a mail-ballot election donít need to answer to me; they need to answer to their local officials and taxpayers. Those voting against infrastructure need to answer to every county commissioner, every contractor, every student, every veteran and every worker who would have benefited from the jobs, repairs, and buildings an infrastructure bill would have delivered.
Iím committed to fighting for Montanans ó for our families, for our jobs, and for our communities. And, as I have done in the past, I will work with anyone more focused on moving our state forward than wins and losses in Helena.
Thatís what Montanans not only expect, but deserve.
Steve Bullock, a Helena Democrat, is serving his second term as Montanaís governor.