Take a look at the link that’s right above this post. It’s a pdf of three state comparison slides that we’ve been using to demonstrate the real problem Montana has with economic development. What it shows is that, while Montana consistently ranks middle of the road in economic and demographic comparisons nationally, we’re at the bottom of the pack when compared to the states around us.
If we want to fund legitimate government needs we need economic growth and jobs. If we want people to be happy and reach their potential we need to give them the opportunity for earned success. We’re lagging our neighbors in virtually all of these measures because of policies that have been put in place that may have been well-meaning at the time but that remove options and retard growth in the long term. We’re now reaping the ‘rewards’ of those policies through low wages and high unemployment compared to our neighbors.
The problems are many and the solutions are difficult. But they just grow and get more difficult the longer we wait. Here are a few things the legislature and governor should do yesterday to return Montana’s competitiveness and allow our citizens to pursue happiness and reach for their potential:
- Labor Reform: Become a right to work state, become an ‘at will’ state, and bring the minimum wage back to federal levels
- Budget Reform: Reform our state budgeting process so that we spend based on priorities rather than politics
- Legal Reform: Reform our liability system to decide based on rule of law rather than preferred outcomes of specific cases. This is the biggest single impediment to businesses and job creators coming into the state. If they can’t estimate their future liability risks they’ll move on to someplace where they can
- Pension and Pay Reform: Most state employees are not overpaid, but too many have migrated into higher pay bands over the past ten years while lower paid workers have been left behind. Our pension system is $10 billion underfunded. Without true reform we won’t be able to keep the promises we’ve made to our public employees.
- Land Use: The federal government owns about 30% of Montana’s lands and is increasingly trying to regulate the rest. We should decide what happens in Montana and we are capable of regulating responsible development, whether it’s in agriculture, resources, or recreation.
- Health Care: Obamacare will raise health care costs and decrease access to quality care. We need to implement consumer-driven reforms that allow patients and doctors to make responsible decisions rather than being dictated to from Washington.
- Education Reform: Our education funding system is a mess and our rules don’t allow parents, teachers, and students to innovate and ensure each student gets the best possible education. We need choices and new thinking, not just more money thrown at the problem.
- Government Transparency and Accountability: Taxpayers have a right to know how their dollars are being spent and what’s being done in their names. We need the state to post spending, actual spending not just projected budgets, so that each Montanan can be a citizen watchdog and a responsible part of the process. Senator Taylor Brown has a bill to do just that. Take a look at it and tell your legislators and the governor what you think.
That’s a pretty good start and what MPI will be working on to make Montana competitive again, but mostly to provide each of us the opportunities that free people deserve.