On Jan. 7, a group of small-business owners, ranchers and teachers from across the state started their second job for the next four months. We are Democratic legislators – your neighbors, your coworkers, fellow Montanans – and excited to be working for you at the 2013 legislative session.
Last year, Montana Democratic legislative leaders traveled more than 6,000 miles to meet with small-business owners and Montanans across the state. We listened to what you had to say, and now we have set a legislative agenda that directly matches what we heard.
The priority: Jobs and growing the economy.
To Montanans, that means investments in education and a well-trained work force; improving infrastructure like schools, water systems, roads and bridges that are essential to a healthy economy; providing certainty and predictability in regulations; and keeping the state budget balanced and making fair, targeted tax cuts.
Business owners told us their greatest need is trained workers, and without exception, urged greater state investment in education. By freezing tuition for higher education, increasing access to job training programs, and strengthening ties between public education and employers, we can make sure Montanans fill Montana jobs.
We must also expand employment opportunities for veterans in return for their brave service, and incentivize small businesses to take advantage of their work ethic and expertise.
We must build on the successes of the “Helmets to Hard Hats” initiative and the VOW to Hire Heroes Act to find made-in-Montana solutions to address the disgraceful number of unemployed veterans.
Equally important to businesses and communities is continued investment in public infrastructure.
To us, this means proposing an oil and gas tax impact fund to address the rapid growth in eastern Montana and maximizing grants from the Treasure State Endowment Program and other trust funds to ensure our local communities have the resources they need.
It includes passing a jobs bill that puts Montanans to work constructing 21st century buildings at our two year colleges and universities. Alongside these investments we must work to reduce the cost of health care so businesses can provide affordable coverage to their employees.
We’ve led the effort to balance the state budget for nearly a decade, and just like every Montana family, we will continue to spend less than we take in. Likewise, we will support affordable tax breaks that are fair for working families and middle-class Montanans. Through sound fiscal management, we can help create opportunities for small businesses and working families, and make sure Montana remains a great place to do business and raise a family.
As leaders of the House and Senate Democrats we urge you to work with us by speaking out on the issues you care about at the state Legislature. Share your passion and energy. You deserve a government that is listening to and working for you.
Sen. Jon Sesso is Senate Minority Leader and Rep. Chuck Hunter is House Minority Leader in the 2013 Montana Legislature.