More than 30,000 Montanans are unemployed. Our country is $16 trillion in debt. And if Obamacare is allowed to be implemented as currently written, Montana’s current budget surplus could be wiped out within 24 months from exploding Medicaid payments. This is not the time to bail out public pension funds in Montana.
I have laid out an economic expansion plan that deals with pensions at a later date, once our economy recovers and more Montanans are back to work. We need to keep our priorities on what’s most important right now, and not fall victim to the spending spree of a term-out governor.
My proposal from last October is three-pronged: Lower property taxes statewide by 95 mils, Increase natural resource revenues to backfill that revenue ($220 million), and rewrite the way we pay for our schools. When the expanded natural resource revenues from the Bakken, Otter Creek, and other natural resource projects exceed that annual $220 million, then as governor I will ask both Republican and Democratic legislators to begin stabilizing the pension funds. These pensions are fine until 2034. My proposal will help local governments by lowering levies, not hurt them like Schweitzer’s plan. Part of Montana’s current surplus will go toward the first cycle of property tax relief while we kick-start the natural resource developments. Homeowners will see a 20 percent reduction in their property tax.
Balance between public and private sectors.
For too long a few, vocal obstructionists have been allowed to shut down natural resource development in Montana. North Dakota dwarfs our oil production. Wyoming dwarfs our coal production. The unions who advocate for high wages, jobs, benefits and pensions need to step up and support those revenues which can provide those benefits. It’s time for new blood and fresh ideas in Helena.
Montana has a strategic advantage in our natural resources, and unifying around greater support for resource development will decrease the power of environmental obstructionists. It’s worth billions of dollars to our state. We can create thousands jobs in Montana and get people back to work. Let’s keep our focus. We need jobs and economic development now, before we throw money at selective pensions.
Let’s not put the cart before the horse.
(Corey Stapleton is a candidate for governor in the June 5 Republican primary. He and his wife, Terry, are both fourth-generation Montanan’s who grew up in Great Falls. After more than a decade in the Navy, they’ve made their home in Billings.)