Montana Legislators Hear from Business Leaders

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Lawmaker heard familiar complaints from business leaders taking part Saturday in what was billed as a “jobs listening session,” but agreed many of the comments will help reinforce goals for the legislative session.

Republican legislative leaders are hoping to polish ideas for legislation that could spur job growth by talking to the owners of about 100 businesses.

Farmers and ranchers were worried about property taxes, wolves, and regulations. Mining companies pushed for an easier permitting system and a change in a culture they say is harmful to their industry.

Construction and related industries cautioned lawmakers about cutting spending on infrastructure projects. And hospitals and other in health care cautioned against cuts in Medicaid that pays many of their bills.

Outfitters pushed back against the initiative voters approved last year they say will greatly reduce their businesses. Wind energy companies pushed for more transmission lines to deliver their product.

The business equipment tax was denounced by several business owners as an impediment to growing a business. Both Republicans and Democrats are both talking about at least drastically reducing the tax this session.

The business leaders said health insurance cost is a big problem, and many told lawmakers must do something about workers compensation insurance.

House minority leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said lawmakers must keep work comp reforms high on the priority list. Democrats have largely backed the multiyear work of a joint labor and business panel, while Republicans were expected to unveil their own more business friendly proposal.

Sesso said he heard many business leaders warn lawmakers not to rock the boat as they debate budget cuts.

“They really believe that education is very important and we can’t lose track of out investment in education,” Sesso said. “A lot of what I heard is we are pretty good, let’s keep things stable.”

Mining companies predictably favored making it easier for them to build big projects, difficulties for which they largely blame on lawsuits from opponents. But at the same time, they warned lawmakers not to cut funding to the state agencies that run the permit process because that would only lengthen delays.

Republican Rep. John Esp, of Big Timber, said that like Sesso, he came away with renewed focus on the need to make workers’ compensation insurance more affordable. It was a sticky wicket that involves employers, workers, doctors, lawyers, and others.

“I think the session was worthwhile,” Esp said. “It brought a lot of bright people from all walks of life to give us their ideas.”

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