Gianforte talks tax plan, park fee increases and net neutrality

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Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, stopped in Kalispell Wednesday on his sweep through the state, visiting with workers and executives at Applied Materials.

While there, he sat down with the Daily Inter Lake to talk about the new federal tax plan, proposed fee hikes to Glacier National Park and Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent order to restore net neutrality regulations to internet service providers with state contracts.

Gianforte said he was proud of the tax plan, saying Montanans know how to spend their money better than the federal government.

He said that ideal was his anchor when deciding how to vote.

The congressman dismissed concerns that the doubling of the standard deduction could have an adverse impact on local charitable organizations and nonprofits.

The doubling of the standard deduction could lead to far fewer people itemizing tax deductions because they won’t eclipse the new, higher standard deduction, removing an incentive to give to charitable organizations.

“I think Montanans have big hearts and they will give,” Gianforte said. “The best thing we can do for nonprofits is have a strong economy.”

He also said concerns that the federal deficit could swell by over $1 trillion in the next 10 years as a result of the plan were overblown. He is optimistic the Gross Domestic Product growth rate would increase enough as a result of the plan that it would offset the costs.

If that didn’t happen, he didn’t say how the government would pay for it.

“As a business guy, I know that if we let people keep more of their hard-earned money and we make it easier for businesses to invest and expand we are going to see a bump in the economy.”

He said if he could change two things about the plan, he would make the tax cuts larger and permanent and said he was encouraging discussions in the House to establish the current cuts in perpetuity.

“Nothing floats more boats than a stronger economy with higher growth rates,” he said.

WHEN IT came to addressing a proposal from the Department of Interior to raise entrance fees at some of the nation’s most popular national parks, including Glacier, Gianforte demurred.

In November, Gianforte told the Hungry Horse News that he hadn’t yet determined whether he would support a fee increase.

Later that month, the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana came out with a study showing it was likely the fee increase, while increasing revenue for the National Park Service, could lead to millions of dollars in lost investment in gateway communities within 60 miles of park entrances. That vicinity of Glacier National Park encompasses much of the Flathead Valley, including Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish.

On Wednesday, Gianforte said he still hasn’t decided on a stance surrounding the proposal.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke previously occupied Gianforte’s congressional seat before he was tapped by President Donald Trump to serve in his Cabinet.

When asked about Gov. Bullock’s proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules at the state level for Internet service providers that have state contracts, Gianforte said states could do whatever they wanted but he thought investment in rural broadband was more robust before the 2015 net neutrality federal rules came online.

He said he supported more investment in rural broadband because it was “part of the path to a brighter future for a lot of people.”

AFTER THE interview, Gianforte took a tour with employees and executives of Applied Materials, a company with a story not unfamiliar to Gianforte.

Much of the work being done at the Kalispell facility was started by Semitool, a company that was started in the Flathead Valley in the late 1970s. In 2009, it was acquired by Santa Clara-based Applied Materials for $364 million. The company operates two facilities in the Kalispell area, but one in Libby has been shuttered.

Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies in Bozeman in 1997 before taking the company public in 2004 and selling it to international software giant Oracle Corporation in 2015 for $1.5 billion.

He said that after he was done in the Flathead he was on his way to Great Falls, then on to Bozeman, which he calls home, before returning to Washington D.C.

“Then I go back to the swamp,” he said.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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