All those tax treats that some of my colleagues in the Legislature doled out to the so-called “job creators” backfired with state employee layoffs and public service program cuts. This past legislative session, it was crystal clear that our state coffers needed the tax revenue that we gave away to big boys in boardrooms for essential public services. Yet, when we tried to close corporate loopholes to enhance state revenues, the cacophonous cries of “Jobs, jobs, jobs!” drowned out common sense and trampled the public good. Sadly, instead of good-paying jobs for Montanans, state government is handing out pink slips to its dedicated workers.
To date, at least eight public servants from the historical society and 12 from the state library are on notice or gone. Many have devoted their entire careers to public service. More state workers will likely face layoffs or reduced hours. How’s that for job creation and growing the local economy? Remember, every dollar that our hardworking state employees earn turns around about six times to help Montana main streets. Every dollar denied does not. Some of my fellow legislators believe that handing out tax treats like candy to big corporations makes more jobs. But the truth is there’s absolutely no evidence to show that the economic elite invest in their workforce with the money they save from tax abatements, credits, exemptions or any combination of tax expenditures that, incidentally, most hard-working Montanans don’t get. Instead, Montanans now get a higher gasoline tax, and Big Oil, which produces that gasoline and enjoys the profits, gets a tax holiday. Those giveaways do nothing for Montana families who struggle just to keep their cars running. However, they do make the wealthy even wealthier, raise big company profits, and fatten the wallets of shareholders and corporate investors.
State government is one of Helena and Montana’s biggest employers. Its shareholders are its people. With the cuts in important public services and the good workers providing those services, many people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations will suffer. Many people will be disenfranchised by the loss of worthy programs at the state library, historical society, in health and human services, the Job Service and other necessary departments. What about those lost shareholder dividends? This didn’t have to happen. The “Last Best Place” didn’t have to land in this place. We can, however, change course. Moving forward, let’s invest in Montana and its people, not in Wall Street barons.
Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, is a Montana state representative.