SEN. JASON ELLSWORTH
As we begin to approach the 2023 legislative session, workers, families, employers and elected officials in Montana are all facing a unique combination of opportunities and challenges that we have never seen before.
In many ways, Montana’s economy is better than ever. Governor Greg Gianforte recently announced that our unemployment rate remains at an all-time high as more Montanese are working than ever before. The Treasure State’s economy and personal income are growing at the fastest rates in 40 and 15 years, respectively.
This success, along with our status as a freedom-loving state and vast open spaces, has spurred interest in Montana – as a place to start a business, raise a family, retire and buy property. The cost of owning or renting a home has skyrocketed as demand outstripped supply. Massive inflation created by reckless federal spending and the shortage of workers to fill all the job vacancies greatly compound our economic challenges.
As a state, we cannot completely overcome national and international trends on things like inflation, labor shortages, or the possibility of an impending recession. But what we can do legislatively comes down to three broad categories: reduce costs where possible, enable innovation, and protect what we already have.
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Reducing costs and enabling innovation includes removing red tape that holds back entrepreneurs in Montana, like when we removed barriers to telehealth and direct-to-patient healthcare providers in the last legislative session. Next session, we’ll look at unnecessary housing regulations that drive up the cost of building and buying a home, as well as reducing property taxes. Governor Gianforte’s administration has also embarked on a multi-year red tape reduction effort, and I’m excited to see what proposals his team is putting forward.
Enabling innovation and upward mobility also means both preparing the next generation and making Montana competitive for business. We took many steps in the right direction last year, including passing legislation to increase teachers’ starting salaries, encourage vocational and technical education, reduce taxes on business equipment, and reduce and simplify income taxes. Sen. Steve Daines, Governor Gianforte and business leaders touted these and other reforms at the recent “Montana on the Rise” economic summit.
Going forward, we must build on these early reforms and significant investments. The Legislative Assembly recently brought together all of the major constitutional players in our public education system around one table to discuss next steps to better prepare Montana students for their future careers. We are also in the midst of a historic investment in high-speed internet to bridge the digital divide, give rural communities a fairer footing, and create opportunity in every corner of Big Sky Country. Additionally, Montana’s potential to produce abundant and cheap energy should be unleashed.
Finally, we must protect what makes Montana the last best place, including our traditional values and the rights and freedoms we hold dear. It also means retaining and increasing public access to the great outdoors, like the Legislative Assembly’s investments in the Lower Yellowstone and Somers Beach public access projects last year.
In the 2021 legislative session, we created a solid foundation that is already driving job creation and wage growth. In the 2023 session, I hope Democrats will join us in building on this foundation to continue to make the most of Montana’s opportunities and address the challenges we face. We all recognize these challenges. To deal with it, Republicans will put in place policies to reduce costs, enable innovation, and protect what we cherish about Montana. These solutions should have appeal across the political spectrum.
Senator Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is the president pro tempore of the Montana Senate. This column was originally published as part of the Frontier Institute’s “Legislative Viewpoint” series.