MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
Touting gains made during his time in office, Gov. Brian Schweitzer released an annual Labor Day report Tuesday that was full of indicators that Montana's economy is as strong as ever. His political opponent, however, said the numbers were hand-picked to paint a rosy picture. Schweitzer said job growth is strong, wages are going up, and energy projects lured by his policies are driving economic growth. "This is the golden years in Montana," the Democrat said. "These are the best days in recent history in Montana. "We are hitting on all cylinders." Schweitzer said the state is adding more jobs each month than it has in years, boasts an unemployment rate of around 4 percent that continues to outperform the rest of the country, is registering more new businesses, and has one of the nation's fastest growing gross domestic products. And even though Montana wages rank among the bottom of U.S. states, Schweitzer said they are increasing at a faster rate than many other states'. Republican state Sen. Roy Brown, running against Schweitzer, said things aren't that good, and "families struggling to put food on the table know the whole story." "His complete misrepresentation of Montana's economy shows just how tragically out of touch he's become," Brown said. He said job growth has actually declined, if measured from June 2007 to May 2008. And the unemployment rate has gone up about a full percentage point from record lows last summer. Both perspectives could tell some of the story. University of Montana Economist Paul Polzin said Montana has seen historic economic growth in recent years but he is tempering his expectations downward for 2008. Polzin said he originally predicted yet another year of 4 percent or better growth for the economy. He has now downgraded that to about 3.3 percent, a figure he says still is favorable. Polzin said there have been three areas of big economic growth in Montana's recorded history: the late 1940s and early 1950s, due to oil and strong agriculture; the 1970s, primarily because of coal production, timber and oil; and the past four or so years. "On a historic basis, it is very, very strong growth," Polzin said. Polzin said some of the biggest factors for that recent growth have been high oil prices, a strong agriculture economy and overseas demand for the state's natural resources.