Primary Job

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. Senate passed an extension of long-term unemployment benefits that helps out-of-work workers for five months. The fate of unemployment benefits is now up to the House.

Given that the bulk of the House’s current budget cuts proposal targets programs that help people of limited means, it’s unknown if it will act any time soon on unemployment. But it is midterm elections and the GOP hungers to control the Senate. Unemployment benefits can become a political vehicle for other policy like tax cuts.

Montana is headed in the right direction. At just over 5 percent, the state unemployment is lower than it is nationally. The state budget is balanced and the next Montana Legislature will likely face hundreds of millions of dollars of budget surpluses.

The state Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy recently said that the state added 3,000 jobs in February. Nationally the economy added nearly 9 million private sector jobs in the past four years with 192,000 in March.

Gov. Steve Bullock recently released a business plan developed by Montanans. Nearly a year in drafting and written with the help of 1,000 people from all 56 counties, the Main Street Montana business plan was chaired by executives from D.A. Davidson & Co. and Washington Companies.

The business plan blueprints actions needed to achieve economic growth, create jobs, and improve wages. The plan seeks workforce training and education, policy that attracts, retains and grows business, to build upon the current foundation, markets Montana, and nurtures emerging business innovation.

It’s up to the governor and legislators to decide how best to implement the plan. But before then, voters decide who goes to Helena and works with Bullock.

It’s understandable why voters feel such discontent toward Congress. The median household income in Montana is over $45,000 annually while an individual member of Congress earns four times that amount and works half-time in session.

Republicans have been badmouthing the Affordable Care Act for four years, all the while enjoying taxpayer funded health care and retirement. The GOP may not have a plan, but millions of taxpaying citizens today receive significant tax breaks for healthcare thanks to the ACA.

Women across America cannot today be charged more than men for health insurance and birth control prescriptions are rightly covered under the ACA.

From unemployment benefits to immigration reform, from minimum wage increases to fair wages for women workers, House Republicans stand in opposition.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The law helps with equal pay and discourages discriminatory wage structures. Still today in Montana a women worker earns only three-quarters of her male coworker in a same-job comparison. Clearly there is more that Congress can and must do.

In Montana, Bucy recently held a Pay Equity Summit attended by hundreds of women. From now until the next Montana Legislature convenes, expect to hear more good job-related news from Montana.

Prior to the last Legislature, a report outlined how Montana could easily leverage billions in federal funding to create thousands of jobs in the medical industry. It seemed like a no-brainer to spend federal dollars to create jobs like nurses or doctors. But Montana still refuses this vital Medicaid funding.

This June, Flathead voters determine how ridged an ideologue to likely send from the Flathead to Helena next winter. The next Legislature should embrace the governor’s business plan. Beyond political rhetoric, it’s the ability to work together that creates good policy.

The primary question Republicans and Democrats should ask themselves is which politicians have the courage to compromise and work with the governor to get the job done. June primary voters decide whether the fall’s candidates are more pragmatic or more ideological.

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