Well, that didn’t take long. It’s been little more than a month since the Republican Party took over the Governor's Office and convened the 67th Montana Legislature, and they are already driving the truck into the ditch.
While newly elected Gov. Greg Gianforte claims he wants to do more to attract businesses and good-paying jobs to Montana, he and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature seem to be trying scare them away.
In just a few short weeks, our new GOP overlords are waging a legislative war on workers, women’s rights, the environment, tribal sovereignty, civil rights and freedoms, public safety, seniors and voting rights, while seeking to undercut popular, voter-passed initiatives.
The broad attack on Montana’s wildlife heritage is even harder to fathom, given the ruling party’s stated goal of attracting businesses and entrepreneurs to our state. Yet, multiple bills are moving through the Legislature now — bills that will sacrifice our wildlife and wildlife habitat, and with it, the very economic engine that attracts business investment and job creators in the first place.
Specifically, there are bills that will undermine the restoration in Montana of wild bison (our national mammal!), bills to reduce public hunting opportunity in favor of wealthy out-of-staters, bills to allow wolf trappers to use lethal snares that will kill anything that happens to stick its neck inside one — be it a rare wolverine or your pet dog. When considered in concert with other bills that will create a wolf bounty and longer trapping seasons, get ready for a proliferation of lethal snares and leghold traps near your favorite public land trail in western Montana.
Other bills directly attack our public lands, by giving politicians in Helena veto power over proposed conservation easement and land purchases by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks under the popular Habitat Montana program.
Similarly, prospective business investors are being scared away from Montana by Republican-led attacks on public safety, women and LGBTQ citizens, and proposed budget cuts to public education, healthcare, and essential services — the very things that improve our quality-of-life and actually do attract economic development.
Instead, the governor and Republican legislative leaders are claiming that we need to give yet another tax cut for the wealthy, so that they move to the state, or move their business to the state. Yet, we are already ranked as the eight-lowest “tax-burdened” state in the nation, according to a 2020 study, largely due the fact that Montana does not have a sales tax.
The 0.15% income tax cut being discussed in Helena will not do a damn thing to catalyze out-of-state investment. It will be enough for the governor to buy a new Lexus, but it will barely cover an oil change for rest of us. Meanwhile, the long-term impact to the budget of “tax cut” ideology will necessitate draconian cuts to services for seniors, public education and who knows what else down the road.
The point is this: none of policies emanating from Helena right now are remotely consistent with Montana being “open for business.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite message. Decades of studies all demonstrate that the single biggest catalyst for economic development in Montana is our quality of life, and particularly our wildlife and outdoor heritage. Yet that same magnet for entrepreneurial business people is under assault in Helena.
Make your voice heard this legislative session, by letting the Governor Gianforte and your legislators know that you do not support the continued assault on everything that makes the Last Best Place what it is.
Derek Goldman has lived in the Northern Rockies for over 30 years, the vast majority of that time in Missoula, where he enjoys seeing wildlife while paddling, hiking, hunting, fishing and snowboarding on public lands.