I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus as well as with the staff of the Department of Energy, White House Budget Office, and several House and Senate members from other states. Why? Because that’s where the money is. Your money.
With the full support of the Kalispell City Council, I went to D.C. to lobby for your federal tax dollars to be returned to this community via job creation grants and appropriations. To be clear, I was not asking for an increase in government spending. I believe in small government. I believe in the free market system. And I believe you must play the cards you are dealt.
The Obama Administration has made clear its agenda and a significant portion of its budget (i.e. your tax dollars) will be dedicated to energy efficiency projects and “green” transportation and technology initiatives. While I personally may not agree philosophically that this agenda – and more importantly, this budget directive – is appropriate, I am without the ability to alter the course of the President of the United States.
Thus, it is within this framework that we must find the best way to direct as much of the already appropriated dollars to the Flathead Valley. I asked for continued direct appropriations from the federal government to municipalities – appropriations and grant monies that each eligible municipality has the autonomy to spend in a manner that benefits its specific community. We spoke of the EECBG funding we received last year, which amounted to a combined benefit of approximately $500,000 to the city and county. I also provided Baucus and Tester with a list of items that Kalispell needs in order for job growth to occur.
Specifically, I addressed the subsidies and tax incentives available to small business owners for hiring new employees. These incentives have largely been underutilized because small business cannot hire employees without having work to complete. As public infrastructure is languishing, if Congress chooses to continue stimulus funding, I suggested it fund public infrastructure projects for small business to complete so that the employers can take advantage of the incentives for hiring new employees. I talked about utilizing our current unemployed forest products workforce in developing and operating a biomass facility. I asked that the federal legislation that prevents biomass from being a viable energy option in Montana be amended to create job opportunities for those already skilled in forest harvesting and manufacturing. We discussed the need for increased transportation opportunities in the Flathead Valley that would join the cities, towns and villages together in a cohesive transportation system. I requested support in creating a Montana Showcase Community. I discussed the fact that much of the federal funding issued to date has been for projects utilizing alternative energy and “green” building. Since we have a wealth of unemployed, highly skilled construction tradesmen, grant dollars and direct appropriation dollars for innovative building projects should be directed here to create a Montana Showcase Community. Finally, I provided the senators with a list of grants the City of Kalispell has applied for, and asked for their support in garnering these funds. (I have also communicated these issues to Congressman Denny Rehberg.)
The cost to the City of Kalispell to send me to D.C. was approximately $1,500. I paid my food and travel expenses while in D.C. Was the investment worth it? Only time will tell. It was a new approach, and admittedly, with all new approaches comes risk. However, to try and fail is respectable. To fail to try is unconscionable.
I will keep lobbying for Kalispell locally, regionally and nationally because we need jobs. It is not realistic to believe that Washington is going to return your tax dollars to your pocket. From what I saw (save for our delegation), Washington only knows how to spend money rather than cut expenses. And if it is going to spend your money, it might as well spend it in your community putting our unemployed back to work. So I will continue to ask our congressional delegation to lobby specifically for the Flathead Valley when they fight for appropriations to Montana. As a council, though our membership may disagree philosophically and politically on many issues, collectively, we agree that the prosperity of the City of Kalispell is worth fighting for. And we will do whatever it takes to play the cards we are dealt to come up with the winning hand.
Tammi Fisher is the mayor of Kalispell.
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