Political Posturing Costing Jobs

Contractors are laying off employees because of the state's announcement that $127 million in construction projects will be delayed

Recently, I notified eight of my valued employees they would be laid off until further notice due to budget shortfalls at the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the department’s recent announcement that $127 million in construction projects would be delayed and possibly canceled in 2017. I have also spoken to other contractors across Montana who are laying off hundreds of employees that normally work throughout the winter maintaining equipment in preparation for the next season of work. These dedicated, hard-working construction professionals are the victims of the political posturing already infecting the Montana legislative process, weeks before the session even convenes.

The MDT and Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget office have known for several years the Highway Special Revenue Account cash balance was declining, and at some point, the state of Montana would be unable to match federal highway construction dollars, not to mention fully fund the Montana Highway Patrol. These are the two largest programs funded by the state’s highway account, which derives most of its revenue from the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel.

So, why didn’t Dan Villa, Bullock’s budget director, sound the alarm bells during the 2015 Legislature? Worse yet, why does the governor’s proposed budget for 2017-2018 simply punt the ball on first down?

If the governor’s proposed budget passes as is, 27 Highway Patrol troopers would be eliminated and hundreds of construction workers will lose their jobs over the next couple years. Economists widely agree that every $1 million spent on highway construction creates 28 direct, indirect and induced jobs. The direct jobs are those in engineering, administration and construction companies like mine. Indirect jobs are those created when I buy equipment, parts, materials and professional services. Induced jobs are the ancillary jobs created with that money circulating through the economy. So, the governor’s budget would translate into the loss of at least 3,556 jobs.

Curiously, the announcement of delaying/canceling millions in construction, with no proposed solutions, was made shortly after the election — an election in which “jobs” were a central theme.

Contractors and the thousands of Montanans we employ are asking, “Where’s the leadership?” As it now stands, Montana, for the first time in our lifetime, will be sending federal highway money back to Washington, D.C. for other states to spend on their highways.

To those of us impacted by the opening salvo to this upcoming legislative session, it is not a game. Real people’s lives are already being affected and the situation will grow worse every day the problem goes unresolved.

The traveling public is also being punished for this political gamesmanship. Nearly one-third of the bridges on our state highway system are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, as evidenced by the bridge on Interstate 90 at Butte that is under emergency repairs after failing earlier this fall. People are dying after running off the narrow rural highways with no shoulders while the legislators and the governor point fingers at each other about who should propose a 10-cent per gallon increase in fuel taxes. This would cost Montanans about $8 per month, if they travel 20,000 miles per year.

It’s time to rise above the petty “gotcha” politics we’ve seen in Helena for far too long. Do the right thing for the right reasons and the voters will reward you. Fixing the highway funding crisis – and fixing it fast – is the right thing to do to put us back to work!

Deb Poteet owns a construction firm in Missoula.

  • reggiewhitefish

    Regardless the need and the suffering you point out, Republicans will oppose ANY raise in ANY taxes. They have all signed an oath to a lobbyist that they will not do their constitutional duty to use all necessary avenues to govern effectively. Their allegiance is to a philosophy, not their constituents.

    • Snowbird

      And dumbocrats have never seen a tax they wouldnt raise.or something they want to tax, except maybe medical marijuana.
      Their allegiance is to the philosophy of tax spend and waste other peoples money.

      • Caddisfly

        You really hammer down the regressive kool aid don’t you. Most deficits are run up under rethuglican administrations.

      • Rhett the Butler

        Goopers just want something for nothing. Don’t like the roads, don’t drive on them because we (Goopers) don’t want to pay for it.

      • reggiewhitefish

        Are you sure your title shouldn’t be Snowjob? You have been duped by all those hate radio and Fox “news” liers and now want to convince us that we should drink the kool aid too?!

  • Snowbird

    Dumbocrat governor

  • geraldcuvillier

    This is what you get when you re-elect Bullock. How could you do that Montana?

    • Caddisfly

      With pleasure, you are welcome.

  • Gravelly Joe

    Nice redirect, the real issue is the gas tax, Deb is just providing cover for her conservative friends. The gas tax has not been adjusted for inflation in almost 3 decades. Any tax increase is DOA with republicans. Gas Tax increase = NOT. GONNA. HAPPEN.

  • Gravelly Joe

    Many of our usual commenters would scream bloody murder if they didn’t get their annual inflation adjustments or cost-of-living increases for their salaries or social security. Inflation erodes the buying power of the gas tax every year. I get a real frickin kick out of the conservatives on this site barking about higher taxes then talking out the other side of their mouths when infrastructure needs maintenance or repair.

    • Snowbird

      Fix the instructure but stop wasting on dumb liberal ideas

      • Caddisfly

        Yeah who needs education, VA centers and senior care, just a bunch of mooches.

  • Caddisfly

    Most heavy construction workers are laid off when the hard frost comes, some work a few hours doing some light maintenance to subsidize their unemployment and a few work when their is heavy snowfall. It is a lifestyle they are used to. Any worker she has currently laid off would be off regardless of the budget for next year. This is just more posturing by political groups to try and force an issue that they care about. Maybe the legislature will raise the gas tax to put these poor souls back to work, or maybe they will further cut education, veteran benefits and senior care. I guess we will see what take priority.

  • Orion

    After reading all of the comments, most writers are just as bad as the politicians. Follow partisanship rules no matter who, what, or how many are affected. Then point their finger at the other party and cry wolf.
    I tend to vote conservative most of the time. I did vote for Bullock the first go around, because Rick Hill took the dark money and would not return it when given the chance. Bullock did an ok job. Nothing to brag about, just ok. He gets re-elected and then pulls this crap on Montana. Like he is already planned to run the state into the ground and then run for Senate in 6 years.
    All of the politicians knew about this funding dilemma some time back and not one soul mentions it until every starts falling apart. Then- out comes the index finger pointed towards the other party. They are all guilty of not doing their job. No one is innocent.
    I am for raising the fuel tax, but using for funding infrastructure only. The vast majority of fuel tax dollars go towards promoting tourism, given to the tribes for their own projects, of which they pay nothing towards state or federal roads. The rest to a whole itinerary of other non infrastructure projects. Such as paying millions for MT tourism publications to an out of state firm that has kin in the right MT offices. Even though right at home we have the best resources for this type of work.

    • Gravelly Joe

      Conservative doctrine – If the taxes do not cover the cost of the service, the service must be cut as taxes can never be raised.
      So if the Highway Patrol and Public Works projects are primarily funded by gas taxes, and the taxes decrease over time as a result of inflation, then the Highway Patrol and Public Works projects must be cut by an amount equal to reduce revenue from the gas tax.
      Bullock is acting completely in line with conservative dogma, what’s the problem??

      • Snowbird

        Im a conservative and I actually agree with letting gas tax go up if its guaranteed to fund infrastructure. At least its one tax that everyone shares in equally, since you know, the top 10% pay 80% of all personal income tax, and the bottom 50% pay none at all.
        Why shouldnt those of us who actually pay taxes demand it be spent wisely and not on liberal pie in the sky programs?

        • Caddisfly

          Those pesky kids wanting an education, those shifty veterans wanting medical and training benefits, and those slothful senior citizens who are on the dole, those liberals and their pie in the sky programs. What next medical care for the poor, get real.

          • Snowbird

            Those pesky kids who dont pay their outstanding 1 trillion dollar student loan debt you mean? Yeah them.
            Im not saying all programs are pie in the sky. Many are and many more are abused, including SS for disability, Food stamp, welfare for able bodied people, etc. some programs are worthy in most peoples eyes. Many more need to be cut, people on them need to be verified as really needing them etc

          • Caddisfly

            The more red the county in Montana the higher the dependency on food stamps, welfare and medicaid.

        • Rhett the Butler

          The bottom 50% DO pay taxes. Property taxes, vehicle taxes, gas taxes, cigarette and alcohol taxes, probably some others.

        • reggiewhitefish

          No, we need policy (again) that raises the bottom 90% earning power high enough that the bottom 50% do pay income taxes.

          The top 10% average 7 times as much income as the bottom 90% and the top 1% hold more wealth than the bottom 90%. This wealth/income inequality is still getting worse, as lifestyle continues to drop for the working class and the exploiting wealthy continue to steal all new wealth created by workers…..while Republicans constantly work to lower tax obligations of the rich.

          Are you a paid troll?

          • Snowbird

            How about personal responsibility on the part of the bottom 50%?
            Bad lifestyle choices, dropping out of high school, kids out of wedlock, drugs and alcohol abuse, smoking, drinking,not saving, high credit card debt, etc etc etc
            Seems to me a lot of the decisions that demographic make keeps them in poverty, especially those in generational welfare families

          • reggiewhitefish

            Our safety net does help those who are worse off than most of us. But it can get abused by some, and we all agree we should guard against that.

            Are you as adamant towards reforming our (much more expensive) corporate welfare? Should we continue to financially support profitable corporations with tax breaks and more deregulation? Some of the most profitable corporations on earth get money from our general fund due to Republican policy, while others that could provide better living for the general public get denied help by the same Republicans.

          • Snowbird

            Absolutely! Im against corporate welfare too
            They are not angels, but they are not the absolute demons you think they are either

    • Rhett the Butler

      IIRC, tourism promotion dollars come from the state bed tax. I don’t see anything in here about fuel taxes going to tourism.

      http://www.mdt.mt.gov/business/fueltax/allocations.shtml

      • Orion

        I got my info. from Janna Taylor, Mark Blasdel and then DOT director Jim Lynch. Bed tax also goes towards tourism and other things.

        • Rhett the Butler

          Well then, there’s your problem. Better ask them for clarification, maybe a link or two to where that funding stream is laid out.

          I’m not seeing a clear answer that supports this: “The vast majority of fuel tax dollars go towards promoting tourism”.

  • Concerned Citizen

    It’s about time the corporate welfare program (and the MDT) comes to a halt. These companies are steeped in massive waste of tax payer funds. corruption is the norm among the “good ol’ boy” network of corporate CEO’s who always get the contracts. These whining groups (mostly Republican’s) would be ousted immediately if the general public new how this corrupt system works. Like every large company (and bureaucracy), they must go through a wake up call and restructure, especially the ones huddled shoulder to shoulder around the teat of tax payer dollars. This system needs to be exposed and revamped before any fuel tax is even considered. What will they do when we only drive electric autonomous vehicles, place a tax on electric charging stations? NO MORE TAXES!!