HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock and a Democratic legislator from Butte on Wednesday pitched a bill that would require contractors on publicly financed projects to hire Montana workers for at least three-fourths of the jobs.

“If taxpayer dollars are being used on state and local projects, it should be Montana companies that are getting the contract and Montana taxpayers who are getting the jobs,” said Rep. Amanda Curtis, who’s sponsoring the bill.

Curtis’ House Bill 490 is a key part of Bullock’s agenda, in tandem with his proposal for $160 million in state building projects, mostly on state college campuses across the state.

Bullock said if the state’s going to invest its money in these projects, “let’s make sure that the 2,500-plus construction workers who are hired to do that work are our fellow Montanans.”

Bullock said current state law requires contractors on public projects to have at least 50 percent of their workers as Montana residents, but that the law is “riddled with loopholes and not enforceable.”

HB490 would increase the minimum for in-state workers to 75 percent, on all state and local government-funded projects, increase the penalties for violating the law and make it easier to enforce, Bullock and Curtis said at a Capitol news conference.

It also would require the 75 percent Montana worker threshold on projects that wish to qualify for a lower property tax rate offered to renewable power projects, like new power lines that transport wind power.

Joining Curtis and the governor at the news conference was Helena building contractor Dick Anderson, who said on many major energy projects that benefit from state tax breaks and credits, the developers sometimes won’t even allow Montana contractors to bid on the job.

“They’re going to out-of-state contractors with big names,” he said. “Well, we feel like we have big names here in the state. ... We want to be able to compete, and we feel like this law helps.”

Anderson said neighboring states have even tougher laws requiring in-state hiring, and that when he does a job in Idaho or other states, he hires local people. When he does a job in Montana, he said he hires Montana workers for most of the jobs.

“That’s all we’re asking in this bill,” Anderson said. “If you want to come in and compete in Montana, fine – you just need to hire our people.”

HB490 says contractors and subcontractors must ensure that at least 75 percent of workers on a state or local government-funded project are “bona fide Montana residents.” An exception is allowed if the contractor shows he or she can’t find qualified Montana workers for the job, but they still must say what percentage of workers will be Montana residents.

The penalty for noncompliance is $1,000 for each week or portion of a week when the contractor doesn’t employ enough Montana residents, up to a maximum of $10,000.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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