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The 2013 Legislative Docket

By:

Carl Graham, CEO, Montana Policy Institute

With the 2013 legislative session about to begin I thought it might be useful to highlight some of the important issues we could see coming out of Helena over the next few months. Montana is fairly unique in that we still enjoy a true citizen legislature and, regardless of what we may think of some them individually or even in their various groupings, our legislators represent one of the last bastions of true public service, giving much more than they get out of the of process. We should thank them for that, even the ones with whom we disagree.

So, what are they going to be talking about? Well, much of what you’re going to hear in the media between now and next April will be spectacular examples of superfluous issues because that’s what makes news. The hard work and hard issues will be left to the back pages because, well, they’re hard. They’re hard to explain, hard to understand, and hard to get people excited about. But some of these issues will drive future Montanans’ ability to live, work and play here, and they deserve more than passing references on opinion pages or superficial treatment under spectacular headlines.

So let’s look at a few of them.

State Employee Pay: Montana’s public employees are not overpaid. In fact too many of them are underpaid. But they do enjoy benefit packages and job security that our private sector workers can only dream of. This simply isn’t sustainable. At some point private sector workers will see their state employee neighbors’ immunity from the business cycle as grossly unfair, especially when they’re making sacrifices to foot the bill. This is a tinder box that will only burn hotter the longer we add fuel without significant reform, especially in the area of pensions.

Public Pensions: Montana’s pension systems are underfunded to the tune of nearly $4 billion by the state’s accounting, and by closer to $10 billion using real-world accounting standards that wouldn’t land a private sector employer in jail. The state understates this liability by assuming, for example, a 7.75% return on investment while actual returns over the latest ten year period were under 5%. Everyone’s goal is, or should be, to preserve the promises we’ve made to our pensioners. But that outcome becomes less and less likely the longer we wait to reform the system in ways that make it both sustainable and fair to Montanan’s taxpayers.

Labor Reform: It’s not likely we’ll see much in this area because a GOP-led legislature and union-backed governor aren’t likely to find common ground. But if we care about growing jobs, it would be irresponsible to not demand a debate about our labor environment in at least two areas: right to work and minimum wage. Some simple facts form the parameters. First, we are surrounded by right to work states, and they are all outperforming us economically and demographically. Second, right to work states on average have lower unemployment rates, but also lower wages than states that compel union membership and/or dues. With those simple facts as givens, the remaining arguments mostly revolve around cause and effect and “fairness” issues that are inherently political. So our political leaders should be arguing them. Next, Montana’s minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal level even though our per capita income is among the lowest in the nation. It also increases automatically even with high unemployment rates. Labor is like any other good in that if you raise its price people will buy less of it. We should have a debate over whether we would rather force people, especially the young and poorly educated, onto the public dole or allow them the dignity of earning a living through the increased job opportunities that would be available at even the federal minimum wage level.

Natural Resource Development: Economic development in Montana means responsible natural resource development. It’s what we have, and it’s sustainable because it’s unique to the state. If you want Montana oil or coal or gold or wheat or recreation, you have to pay Montanans to get them. That’s not true of portable industries that can easily relocate. So while we should welcome all industries, we should also be lowering barriers, especially those that come from Washington D.C., that restrict the responsible development of what we have here in abundance.

Education Reform: Montana’s schools are good but have seen static performance at higher per pupil costs for two decades. We’re good at teaching our kids on average, but nobody’s average. Each kid deserves to be taught in a way that maximizes his or her potential, and our current one-size-fits all system simply doesn’t allow us to optimize educational outcomes for each of our kids. We need to catch up to the true education innovators around the country by providing more delivery options that address the needs and aspirations of each student, and not just accept that they do Okay on average.

What Should Government Do vs. What Can Government Do? Finally, in times of abundance it’s easy to say government should do something because government can do something. Political philosophy aside, that simply doesn’t work when taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet and can’t afford an ever expanding state. Just because government can do something doesn’t mean that it should. Whether for fiscal or philosophical or moral reasons, we as citizens will be forced to take more responsibility for our actions, for our livelihoods, and for our happiness as the math catches up and current spending levels become unsustainable. The sooner our public servants in Helena acknowledge that fact and begin to grapple with its implications the easier their decisions will be, and the better our lives will be.

Montana Public Radio Commentary: The Courtier Society

By: Carl Graham, CEO, Montana Policy Institute

Thanksgiving always reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where the aliens show up in sparkly robes with gleaming big eyes and smiles all around. Their elongated fingers carry a book called “To Serve Man,” which everyone naturally assumes is a primer for saving us silly humans from our own ignorance and evil natures. This is during the Cold War, remember, when we all assumed we were going to blow each other to smithereens at any moment.

Naturally the best and the brightest humans start lining up for a trip to the home planet where further enlightenment undoubtedly awaits and a select few will be chosen as mankind’s benevolent overlords. It’s for our own good, of course.

Unfortunately, “To Serve Man” turns out to be a cookbook and the best and brightest are on the menu instead of the guest list.

Maybe it’s just the Thanksgiving tryptophan talking, but I think that’s where this country is headed as people and businesses line up for special treatment from an increasingly centralized and powerful government. At some point they’re going to find out that they’re dinners instead of diners.

We’re already seeing the increased influence exerted by just a few large special interests with access to political power resulting in more restrictions, regulations, and costs that disproportionately fall on small businesses and families, whose voices and opportunities to pursue happiness have grown relatively weaker in the process.

I could give you any number of examples, but let’s just use one that everybody has seen in the papers. The Dodd/Frank banking reform law was passed in the wake of a financial crisis that resulted in taxpayers bailing out big banks to the tune of billions of dollars and looking for someone to blame. Although many of its rules are still being written, we already know that the law includes massive increases in compliance, insurance and capital costs for banks, along with giving politically favored large institutions a de facto “too big to fail” designation.

It’s a law that was written for big bankers by big bankers. They can absorb the increased compliance costs while small banks with much lower margins can’t. They can meet the capital and insurance requirements that stifle small banks’ ability to make local loans to farmers and homebuyers. And of course with an implicit government guarantee, big banks enjoy much lower borrowing costs than small banks giving them even more of a competitive advantage.

The result is that we will soon see our community banks – those that survive anyway – become nothing more than storefronts and loan processors for the “too big to fail” banks that the government has chosen to guarantee. Decisions will be made based on checklists developed in New York and Washington D.C. rather than on personal relationships and local knowledge. Loan proceeds will be shipped out of the state and the big banks will increasingly feed the revolving door of the regulated and regulators until only those that can maintain their political access survive. Consumers will have fewer choices with higher costs, and will have to tailor their lives to meet one size fits all requirements if they want mortgages or small business loans.

But that’s not my point.

My point is that by massively centralizing and expanding government power we’re creating a courtier society, one where access to the King’s court is more important to success than merit or effort or risk taking. Now of course I’m not saying we’re creating a monarchy, but the effect is the same when power, influence and success come from proximity to the levers of power rather than from working hard and taking risks. The politically connected will always have access to power, and so the greater that power the more they will succeed at everyone else’s expense.

The result of this centralization and expansion of power is the systematic elimination of small business in this country. The barriers to entry are becoming so high and the cost of complying with regulation so onerous that would-be entrepreneurs are increasingly unable to make any return on their investments or even go about their daily business without risking fines, penalties, or jail.

Many existing businesses will simply close up shop as regulations and reporting requirements become too expensive or difficult to comply with. Job growth will dry up – especially at the low end of the income scale – as the costs of hiring new employees increase and government becomes a competitor for labor with new and expanded entitlement programs. New entrepreneurs will increasingly look at the barriers to entering the marketplace and the myriad of obstacles erected in their path and just go do something else. The risks and rewards of starting a new business will just not be worth it, especially if their success will be demonized in the increasingly popular political tactic of class warfare.

In a courtier society power is centralized and only that power decides who succeeds and who fails. Decisions are made based on proximity to the throne rather than merit, effort, or even the law. That is the direction we are headed as government becomes increasingly centralized, large, powerful and arbitrary.

The end of this path lies in a business/government partnership where large corporations operate under the umbrella and the thumb of government, and people trade their freedom for a monthly check. There’s a name for that, but I don’t want to be incendiary on this special holiday. Just take a look at Italy in the 1920s for a good example.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving while we still have much to be thankful for.

####
For Immediate Release
930 Words

Carl Graham is CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based in Bozeman.
He can be reached at:
67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B
Bozeman, MT 59715
(406) 219-0508
cgraham@montanapolicy.org

Media Trackers Montana: 50 State Legislators Discuss Free Markets at Montana Policy Institute Forum

A total of 50 state legislators and approximately 130 people met this weekend to discuss free market principles for Montana.

The two-day event was hosted by the Montana Policy Institute (MPI) and focused on gearing up both state legislators and the general public for the upcoming 2013 legislature. The forum featured discussions and presentations on important issues for the upcoming legislature and was highlighted with a presentation by Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member and Senior Economics Writer Stephen Moore.

Click here to continue article…

Montana Pig Tales

Once upon a time there was a wonderful land with untold riches. This land had fertile soil to grow more food than the locals could eat, gems and minerals that were sought after worldwide, trees for their houses and abundant fuel for their stoves. This wonderful land was filled with opportunity, and happy families prospered with each generation better off than the previous.
There were also helpful folks in the land’s Capitol City who worked for the happy families and did the kinds of things that everyone could benefit from. They built roads and schools and made sure everybody played by the same rules. And they kept the king in far-away DC Land from trying to run their lives. But then something happened, something awful and selfish.

The people in DC Land and Capitol City stopped working for the happy families and started ruling over them. They grew larger and larger and decided to regulate and tax and dictate more and more parts of the happy families’ lives. The land of opportunity became a land of limitations. Laws were passed to protect people from themselves instead of just from each other. Rules were made keeping the happy families from using all the riches that the land offered and pitting them against each other. The land with untold riches became one of the poorest in the kingdom. The happy families could no longer pass on opportunities they had enjoyed. And so the once-happy land got older and poorer, until finally the only people who could enjoy its beauty came from other places. The land of opportunity became a land of futility. And the once happy families were scattered to the winds.

Montana is still that happy land of opportunity, but we won’t pass that heritage along to our kids if we continue the current path of bigger government, more regulation, and control by Washington bureaucrats. We still have the riches that made Montana the Treasure State, but we’re losing the legacy of opportunity that those riches could provide. We increasingly have a government that has become its own special interest instead of our employee. And we’re being tied down with one size fits all solutions that may be great for New York or Mississippi, but not for Montana.

Welcome to “Pig Tales: Wasted Treasure in the Treasure State” — a one-stop shopping guide to Montana government. This is the second in a biennial look at Montana state government, our people, and our opportunities.

Our simple goal is help provide as much useful information as possible so that as the people who represent us make decisions that affect our lives and our families, we will have a confident and informed voice. Enjoy the tale!

Click here for full PDF (8MB!)

Interested in a hard copy or two? We’ll have them for purchase right here coming soon. Can’t wait? Call us at 406-219-0508 to place your order or email us at info@montanapolicy.org. In order to break even, we will be charging $3.50 for quantities up to 10 and $3.00/copy for quantities over 10. These prices include shipping and handling.

3rd Biennial MPI Legislative Forum

In preparation for the 2013 Legislative Session, Montana Policy Institute is bringing national, state, & local experts together for a discussion of budget reform, fiscal discipline, government transparency, education policy, & property rights and providing practical alternatives to return growth and prosperity to Montana. Our Friday evening dinner forum keynote will be Stephen Moore, Editorial Board Member and Senior Economics Writer at The Wall Street Journal.

The event will take place at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena on November 16 & 17, 2012. Please see the link below for the event homepage and to register. Early registration is highly encouraged as we are expecting a full house. Early bird rates available until Wednesday, 11/7.

3rd Biennial Montana Policy Institute Legislative Forum – November 16-17. 2012

Interested in becoming a sponsor? Check out our sponsorship page for more details and secure online sign up or contact our Bozeman office at (406)219-0508 or at info@montanapolicy.org.

Public vs. Private Sector Compensation in Montana (2012)

By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

Click here for full study. (PDF – 4MB)

The State Human Resources Division (Division) of the Montana Department of Administration plays a key role in the adoption of a pay plan for state employees in Montana. It is for all intents and purposes the sole source of data on compensation used by policymakers and agency managers. Unfortunately, the data the Division produces is based on a flawed methodology and limited data.

The Division conducts a salary survey of Montana and surrounding states on a biennial basis to arrive at a private sector comparison for occupations and offices in state government. With the most recent survey, the Division determined that on average a majority of the public sector occupations studied have earnings that are 13.3 percent below what they call the “market midpoint.” The Division’s methodology is open to criticism on a number of points:

• Many positions in the public sector have no private-sector equivalent. Correctional officers and fire fighters, for instance, have no direct private sector equivalent. Comparing occupations like these to a “market midpoint” yields very little useful information.

• Comparing earnings among occupations does not account for the differences in age, education, and experience for the employees who work in these occupations.

• The Division’s analysis doesn’t include the value of employee benefits — health insurance, paid leave, pension, etc. — which make up a considerable portion of public employee compensation.

This new analysis from the Montana Policy Institute compares employees of similar personal and professional characteristics in both the public and private sectors of Montana. Instead of comparing pay in broad occupational categories, this report uses regression analysis to compare public and private employees of similar work experience, education, gender, race, and disability status. It also analyzes total compensation (which the state fails to do), including take-home pay as well as fringe benefits.

This report details the methodology and finds that public employees in Montana actually earn over 15 percent more than comparable employees in the state’s private sector.

Great Falls Tribune: Judge hears testimony in Gallik case

HELENA – A Missoula judge heard more than two hours of testimony in a Helena courtroom Wednesday in a lawsuit alleging former Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik abused his state office.

Click here to continue reading the article in the Great Falls Tribune…

Coming Soon! New MPI Studies

Research Abstracts

The Montana Policy Institute has undertaken an ambitious research agenda over the past two years heading into the 2013 Legislature. Our research is designed to lead the charge in reforming budgeting, spending, education, legal, labor, health care, and energy policy from the perspective of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty and responsibility. MPI will feature these studies at its biennial legislative in Helena on November 16-17, 2012.

Budgeting for Results: A Fiscal Roadmap for Montana

By Dr. Barry Poulson and Dr. John Merrifield, MPI Fellows

Release: October 2012

Abstract: The 2012 study serves an update and expansion of our 2010 “Budgeting for Results: A Fiscal Roadmap for Montana.” The updated and expanded study consists of the following. Part I updates the 2010 analysis of the structural deficit that has emerged in the state budget. Part 2 outlines a priority based budgeting approach for the state. Part 3 identifies off-budget spending that is contributing to the structural deficit. Part 4 analyses the extent of the unfunded liability in state and local public pension plans while proposing options for reform. Part 5 provides a deeper look at the continuing accumulation of unfunded liabilities in the Other Post Employment Benefits plan in Montana. Part 6 explains how perpetually increasing costs in Medicaid are crowding out other budget priorities. Part 7 details the distribution of the tax burden in Montana and sets the stage for Part 8, which simulates revenue projections and economic growth with changes in certain tax policies.

 

State Spending Growth and Future Deficits: How Montana Went from Surplus to Shortfall

By Curt Nichols, MPI Fellow

Release: December 2012

Abstract: The upcoming release is an update of the original study released in 2010. Despite occasional surpluses, the looming structural deficits in Montana’s budget are a cumulative and predictable result of years of spending decisions and state budgeting practices. The primary cause is a large increase in ongoing spending enabled by rapid revenue expansion over several biennia followed by a cyclical drop in revenues. Contributing to this problem is a budget process that pays too little attention to efficiency or effectiveness, fences off significant dedicated revenues to earmarked appropriations, and that allows delays in addressing unfunded pension liabilities.

 

The Montana Supreme Court v. the Rule of Law: A Barrier to Prosperity

By Rob Natelson, MPI Fellow

Release: October 2012

Abstract: There is a consensus among researchers that adherence to the rule of law is crucial to vigorous economic growth. Montana’s economy has lagged the economy of most of the United States since the 1980s, and this MPI study explains one reason why: The Montana Supreme Court, the final authority in the state on most legal questions, has not honored the rule of law. Its failure to do so has harmed wealth and job creation in Montana. In this study, Professor Rob Natelson, the Institute’s Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, first examines what it means to honor the rule of law. He identifies five components: clarity, stability, notice, fairness, and restraint. He then shows how the rule of law is important to a state’s economy. The American Founders understood this, and Professor Natelson cites provisions they inserted into the U.S. Constitution to protect the rule of law. He then explains why the Montana Supreme Court is more influential within state boundaries than most tribunals of its kind, giving it a significant impact on the Montana economy. The heart of the study is its comparison of rule-of-law standards with the Court’s actual practices.

Education Funding Reform

By Curt Nichols, MPI Fellow

Release: October 2012

Abstract: Montana’s system of school funding represents a long legacy of elements that have been added over the years with some features dating back to the first half of the previous century. Court action in the late 1980s lead to the most extensive recent reform in school funding with further changes added in 2005 following another court action. The 2005 changes are more of a pasting-on of several additional elements. The present day result is a complex set of entitlements, calculations and regulations. This paper will attempt to describe the process of determining state aid, placing limits on the general fund budget and the district’s process of setting the budget within these limits and finally setting the property tax levy on taxpayers of the district. Some simplification will be required.

 

Montana Pig Tales: Wasted Treasure in the Treasure State

Release: November 2012

Abstract: This book is a follow up to the 2010 Montana Pork Report. It employs the same guidelines used in the 2010 installment to determine if spending is wasteful are whether a program or budget item: 1) Costs Montanans a significant amount more than the national average; 2) Was the result of poor planning; 3) Clearly is meant to benefit specific classes or individuals at the expense of all others; and 4) Does not directly help Montana or does something that is not government’s job to do. Taxpayers, legislators and the governor will draw their own conclusion on whether these programs and projects are essential or wasteful, but even if there is disagreement, at some point a consensus must be reached.

The Limits of Wind Power

By William Korchinski, Reason Foundation; Project Director: Julian Morris, Reason Foundation

Release: October 2012

Abstract: Environmentalists advocate wind power as one of the main alternatives to fossil fuels, claiming that it is both cost effective and low in carbon emissions. This study seeks to evaluate these claims. Existing estimates of the life-cycle emissions from wind turbines range from 5 to 100 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. This very wide range is explained by differences in what was included in each analysis, and the proportion of electricity generated by wind. The low CO2 emissions estimates are only possible at low levels of installed wind capacity, and even then they typically ignore the large proportion of associated emissions that come from the need for backup power sources (“spinning reserves”). Wind blows at speeds that vary considerably, leading to wide variations in power output at different times and in different locations. To address this variability, power supply companies must install backup capacity, which kicks in when demand exceeds supply from the wind turbines; failure to do so will adversely affect grid reliability. The need for this backup capacity significantly increases the cost of producing power from wind. Since backup power in most cases comes from fossil fuel generators, this effectively limits the carbon-reducing potential of new wind capacity.

 

How Business Friendly Are Montana’s 25 Largest Cities?

By John Hill, President, American Indicators

Release: September 2012

Abstract: In order to excel in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, Montana must be as attractive as possible to businesses wishing to relocate to or expand in the state. There are numerous state level comparisons of Montana’s business friendliness to inform policymakers in Helena. The same sort of report dedicated to comparing major cities and towns in Montana simply doesn’t exist. Cities and towns are the real engines that drive the statewide economy and Montanans should consider how they compare against each other with respect to economic, social, and educational factors attractive to businesses. MPI and American Indicators have collected data on Montana’s 25 most populous incorporated areas and ranked them based on criteria that both ensure business success and protect the entrepreneurial spirit. The three categories ranked are Economic Vitality, Business Tax Burden, and Community Allure.

 

Montana Public Employees Fare Better Than Private Sector Counterparts

By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

Release: October 2012

Abstract: A recent analysis for the Montana Policy Institute and other statewide policy organizations, conducted by economists William Even of Miami University and David Macpherson of Trinity University, measured state and local government employees’ pay around the country. It found that the “premium” – the advantage in total compensation for being a public employee rather than a private-sector worker – is eight percent in Montana. The study used regression analysis and controlled for key factors such as educational attainment, sex, age, race, disability, and work experience. Total compensation included wages, paid time off, health insurance, retiree health coverage, other benefits, and pension costs.

 

MPI Issue Brief: Teen Unemployment and the Minimum Wage

By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

Release: August 2012

Abstract: The Montana Policy Institute released updated research data on the unemployment effects of minimum wage increases on working-age teens in Montana. The unemployment rate for working-age teens has nearly doubled since 2006 and fewer are actually entering the workforce. Controlling for the job-killing effects of the recession, the research estimates that nearly 1,200 jobs were lost for Montana teens because of state minimum wage increases from 2005 to 2011. Unemployment rates for teens are likely to rise in coming years as the recession persists and the state minimum wage increases annually.

 

MPI Issue Brief: Pitfalls of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for Montanans

By Glenn Oppel, MPI Policy Director

Release: June 2012

Abstract: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. If and when it is completely implemented, the ACA stands to radically change the landscape of the health care market by violating basic liberties protected by the U.S. Constitution, undermining any vestiges of consumer-based care, putting more pressure on beleaguered national and state budgets, stymying economic recovery, and exacerbating many of the structural weaknesses that inflate costs and diminish access and affordability in the existing health care market.

 

Economic Impact of Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

By David Tuerck, Paul Bachman, and Michael Head

Release: January 2011

Abstract: In 2005, Montana’s Legislature established a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandating that selected renewable energy sources account for 15 percent of retail electric sales by 2015, with a phase-in period beginning in 2010. The negative economic and social impacts of this mandate on Montana will be significant in terms of lost jobs and lower disposable incomes. In addition, the desired environmental impacts will not be achieved as firms with high power usage will simply avoid or leave Montana in favor of areas with lower electricity prices and potentially lower environmental standards, taking their jobs and prosperity with them.

 

Tax Foundation Releases Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking Montana Ranks 38th

A new study by the Tax Foundation, using the latest data from 2010, ranks the combined state and local tax burden in the 50 states. It calculates the percentage of income state residents are paying in state and local taxes and whether those taxes are paid to their own state or to others. (The study does not attempt to find the amount of money state and local governments have collected.) As for taxes paid to other states, the study estimates how much a Montanan might pay in taxes while, for example, vacationing in another state.

For the entire U.S., the average tax burden per capita is 9.9 percent. The average taxpayer is paying $3,055 to their home state and $1,056 to other states, for a total of $4,112 in state and local taxes. The average per capita income in the U.S. is $41,146. For the study, a ranking of 1st is the highest tax burden while 50th is the lowest.

For the 2010 tax year, Montana’s relatively low state and local tax burden garnered a ranking of 38th in the nation. Its state and local tax burden is 8.6 percent – 1.3 percentage points lower than the national average and 4.2 percentage points lower than New York’s high of 12.8 percent. The average taxpayer in Montana is paying $2,005 to state and local governments in Montana and $1,084 to other states, for a total of $3,089 out of a per capita income of $35,871. Montanans pay about two-thirds of what counterparts in other states pay in taxes to their home state, but pay a small fraction more in taxes to other states. The study shows that Montana has ranked anywhere from 27th to 43rd since the Tax Foundation started releasing the study in 1977.

Montana competes well with neighboring states in the ranking. Idaho is ranked right in the middle of the pack at 25th with a tax burden of 9.4 percent. North Dakota comes in at 8.9 percent, which places it at 35th. Wyoming and South Dakota are in the top five lowest with ranks of 46th and 49th respectively. Nationwide, Alaskans pay the least at 7 percent.

The line graph below shows the rank of Montana and our four neighboring states from 2000 to 2010. As you can see, Montana has fluctuated in the ranking over the time period from a low of 42nd to a high of 33rd. (For a good overview of Montana’s tax climate, see the Tax Foundation’s 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index.)

Looking at neighboring states, Idaho has made the biggest improvement over the time period, jumping from 8th worst in the nation to 25th. North Dakota has been the most erratic, especially from 2004 to 2010, when it went from a strong ranking of 42nd to a high of 26th. For 2010, North Dakota improved to a solid 35th. South Dakota and Wyoming have been the most consistent performers in our region between 2000 and 2010, vying for spots in the top five and often the top two nationwide.

It is worth pointing out that the study highlights that Wyoming, like this year’s winner Alaska, is able to keep the tax burden on its residents low because of revenue from severance taxes on natural resource development. According to a report by Wyoming’s Legislative Services Office, in 2009 Wyoming ranked 1st in coal production, 2nd in natural gas production, and 8th in oil production among the 50 states. Another contributing factor for Wyoming’s consistently competitive ranking is the tax-shifting nature of its 4 percent sales tax.

Anyone interested in taking a closer look at how business-friendly Montana’s 25 largest cities are, check out MPI’s recent report.