Gov. Greg Gianforte outlined an ambitious goal in his State of the State Thursday night, one that is central to all of the initiatives he has announced. That is quite simply, bringing the American dream within reach of every Montanan.
“As we lead the Montana comeback, we can’t just talk about doing these things,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said. “We must do them. Businesses and the jobs they create are fleeing high-tax, high-regulation states and moving to states where the business climate is friendlier, with lower taxes and less red tape.”
Montana taxpayers with at least $18,500 of taxable income pay the state’s top income tax rate. That means more than half of all Montanans are paying 6.9 percent.
That is strike one against the efforts to bring new businesses to life in Montana.
“Look across our competitors in the Rocky Mountain West,” Gianforte said. “Of the eight states in our region, Montana ranks seventh. Near the bottom.”
Personal income rates that high drive away too many businesses that want to locate in Montana. It just doesn’t make good business sense to choose a state with the highest tax rates to start a business.
“The effects of this are very real,” Gianforte said. “Montana loses out on good-paying jobs, and the tax revenue that comes from it. And when we lose out on opportunities and good-paying jobs here, our kids and grandkids leave Montana in pursuit of them: better jobs for better pay.”
Gianforte’s budget therefore proposes to cut the tax rates as the economy grows and as he finds additional efficiencies in state government.
But he will not pay for these cuts by cutting services.
“We pay for most of it by modernizing our corporate tax structure to reward businesses that create Montana jobs and make investments in Montana,” he said.
More businesses will come, boosting revenues despite income tax cuts, if the state can successfully position itself as open for business.
Income tax cuts are not the only measure Gianforte proposes to make the state more business friendly.
He also wants to see:
Reforms to the Business Equipment tax, exempting up to $200,000, which will eliminate the burden for 4,000 Montana small business owners.
Reduce the amount of red tap, which will be the work of a task force led by Lt. Gov. Kristan Juras, that will review every state agency’s regulations from top to bottom.
Prioritize trades education, creating 1,000 scholarships annually that offer businesses a 50 percent credit to help their employees learn new skills and trades.
“Taken together these measures will make Montana more competitive,” Gianforte said. “But it doesn’t matter if no one knows about it. That’s why we need to effectively promote a more competitive Montana to job creators.”
Gianforte has tapped Scott Osterman, who has been a senior executive in Fortune 500 business, to lead the Department of Commerce and use his expertise to grow Montana’s economy, create high-paying jobs that can bring Montanans back home to live and work.
“I will join Scott to promote a more competitive Montana and emphasize what really makes Montana a special place,” he said. “First the Montana work ethic is second to none. Montanans are hardworking and know the value and virtue of hard work. Second, our quality of life is second to none. Our public lands make this one of the best places to live and work and raise a family.”
And, Gianforte added, they are why the governor chose Montana for their home and their business.
“Our decision to move here wasn’t random,” he said. “We didn’t throw a dart at a map. I knew from my first trip to Montana nearly 45 years ago that I wanted to make Montana home.”
Gianforte listed several other proposals aimed at making the state more competitive, or fixing other problems that interfere with the American dream.
Improving the starting pay for teachers, with $2.5 million in incentives to make the pay competitive with surrounding states
Tax relief for reappraisals of homes owned by low-income seniors and disabled veterans and others on fixed incomes, to ensure that reappraisals do not threaten the security of their home
Addressing drug addiction with the establishment of the HEART fund. Using the sale of recreational marijuana to help communities address an epidemic of addition from various drugs like meth and opioids. Boosting funds for drug treatment courts, additional judges, and additional probation and parole officers.
Banning Sanctuary cities, which the governor said fly against the rule of law.
Establishment of a taskforce to study the problem of missing, murdered indigenous people, as well as legislation to prohibit the abortion of babies when they have reached the state of development where they can feel pain.
Gianforte said his proposed budget will spend $100 million less than his predecessor proposed, and eliminates a $25 million transfer from the “rainy day” fund to the general fund.
“Our budget has a strong ending fund balance of over $300 million, $50 million more than the budget the previous administration offered,” Gianforte said. “Our budget does all these things without cuts to essential services.”
Gianforte said his budget is ultimately all about Montana priorities.
“It’s about increasing opportunities here at home and bringing the American dream into greater reach for all Montanans,” he said. “We should ensure every Montanan has the opportunity to realize it — earning a decent living, raising a family, contributing to our communities, retiring comfortably, and owning a home.”
Gianforte said the state has already demonstrated through the pandemic that it has a key component of what it will take to get there — resiliency.
“If there’s anything this year taught us, it’s that Montanans can handle anything,” he said. “We met the test. The state of our state is strong, but it’s more than strong. The state of our state is resilient. And we are ready for our Montana comeback.”
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