MT Workers: Your labor has no value to us

According to a report by our illustrious and always accurate Montana Watchdog sister publication, Montana’s minimum wage is set to go up ten cents to $7.35 an hour in January 2011. What that means is that if you don’t have $7.35/hour plus, say another 20% in taxes and benefits or so worth of productivity in you, then you’re not worthy of being employed according to state law.

Working at a gas station, on a farm, convenience store, fast food restaurant (at least in Eastern Montana) and whatever you’re doing doesn’t add around $9.00 an hour to the value of whatever whatever you’re doing? You don’t deserve a job. Go on welfare. We’d rather support you than encourage you or let you build the skills for higher paying jobs.

Are you a student who just wants a part time gig for beer money or, heaven forbid, tuition if your Pell grant didn’t come through? Tough luck. Go back to your dorm and study until you’re smarter or the economy picks up.

Is there a machine or, better yet, an Asian who can do your job for less than $7.35 an hour plus benefits and taxes? We won’t let you waste your valuable time being productive, achieving anything, or just filling your time not robbing banks. We’d much rather you get unemployment and move back into the folks’ basement.

This is the inanity of a minimum wage. Low hourly-rate jobs are traditionally filled by the unskilled or the temporary labor force, or more likely the temporarily unskilled. Very few people stay at minimum wage more than a year as their work skills develop and they become worth more to their employers. But in the meantime, untold numbers of people who want a second or part time or entry level job are denied the opportunity as employers are forced to mechanize, outsource, or just forego growth because the minimum labor cost is higher than the marginal revenue of hiring someone. And we’re doing this during the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression?

Labor is subject to basic economic principles just like anything else. If the price goes up, less of it will be bought. With unemployment at historic levels and showing no signs of relief, why in the world would we tell people their labor is not worthy of us just to prop up the wage levels of a lucky few who get their foot in the door?

Transparency 101

MPI shares voters’ concerns about government transparency, and whether or not those we entrust with our tax dollars will respect the people’s constitutional right to know how their money is being spent. We’re helping lay the groundwork for the state to create a budget transparency website that would place all state and local revenue and expenditure information online in a fully searchable format.

Several states and even the federal government have already taken significant steps in this direction.  In 2006, the federal government enacted a law that provides a road map for states on how to allow citizens to find out about government spending. The law was co-sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) and was passed unanimously by Congress. The new law creates a free searchable website that allows citizens to track the recipients of all federal funds.  In addition, eighteen states have passed legislation to create a search capability for their spending.  They all have different levels of capabilities and information, but here are some good examples:


The state of Montana has refused to create a spending portal during the past two legislative sessions, so MPI has started the process on our own.  We’ve created the site, which has detailed district-by-district school revenue and spending data, as well state employee pay data.

Unfortunately, not only has the state refused to tell you where your money is being spent, but they’ve also put up roadblocks to us telling you.  They’ve refused to tell us, for example, how much each state employee is paid.  That’s pretty simple, and since they won’t provide that data we’re suing them for it.

The Center for Fiscal Accountability has created a rundown of current state transparency portals throughout the country.  Last updated in January 2010, it clearly shows what’s possible and what should be done.

In addition to state transparency portals, cities, counties, and school boards are also making their finances more open and accountable to taxpayers.  Here’s a partial list of local government sites:

Milwaukee County, WI: 
Douglas County Schools, CO:
Jefferson County Schools, CO:

The majority of these states are getting this information to the taxpayers with little or no fiscal impact, i.e. this is a cheap and easy thing to do, and then been passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Similar bipartisan proposals are long overdue here in Montana.  Go to our to see more great examples and answers to your questions (like how much does it cost?).

In addition to state-sponsored sites, several free market, accountable government organizations like MPI have put up web sites of their own that detail certain areas of state spending.  A couple notable ones are:


MPI has launched a school spending site of our own at  This site is the most user friendly and comprehensive source of district by district school revenue and spending information available.  It’s nonjudgmental and easy to use, even allowing comparisons of up to five districts across a variety of categories.

Transparency isn’t expensive, either.  A study by the Mercatus Center found that costs are almost always overestimated and generally low.  We built for less than $20,000 and six months work.  Imagine what the state could do if it wanted to.

For more information about state spending transparency take a look at our Policy Note:

And, there’s a lot more at our transparency information site:

And finally, we’ll be evaluating bills that deal with transparency as they are introduced.  The idea isn’t to tell people whether or not to vote for them.  We want you to know what they say and whether they meet MPI’s goals for a more transparency and accountable government.

Business is the Dinner…Finally They Get It

By: Carl | October 7, 2010, 8:20 am

I can’t remember if it originally came from an Aesop fable or a Twilight Zone episode, but pretty much everyone has heard the old saw about someone being invited for dinner and finding out they were on the menu instead of the guest list. I think some in the business community are finally starting to realize that pretty much anytime they’re invited to the table by the government they’re more likely to be the entree than the honoree.

The Montana Petroleum Association seems to get it, though. They’re doing things to raise awareness of the impacts of regulation and land use restrictions on our economy and on our way of life. They’ve got an annual essay contest for high school kids and this year the question is:

How does a policy restricting and eliminating grazing, farming, oil and gas and timber harvests on federal lands impact the adjoining land owners, communities, schools, tax base and jobs?

How’s that for subtle? This isn’t big Pharma or AARP eagerly backing health care “reform” once they got their guaranteed market carve outs, or banks keeping mum on financial reform hoping not to offend their new regulatory overlords. This sounds like the voice of an industry that realizes they’re on the menu, and that they have less to lose by fighting back than by playing along to get along.

Good for the MPA. I hope they’re successful in educating both young people and old people on the threats to freedom and prosperity that the current trend towards overweening government poses. And if you have a kid in school, have them write an essay.

Read More | Comments(0)