The legislative session just passed its halfway mark. Our Flathead legislators deserve high marks for their attention to legislation that will improve the state’s business environment and quality of life. At the same time, major bills of consequence must be decided on in the second half of the session: the budget, healthcare, infrastructure investment, education, water compact, and tax reform.
This year, the Kalispell Chamber is focusing its energy and resources on a policy agenda that capitalizes on the Flathead Valley’s extraordinary potential in trade and tourism, manufacturing and technology, and transportation and infrastructure. Here are our top five priorities for action in this session:
SB 244: Sponsored by Sen. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse, this bill will create a Montana trade and tourism office in Calgary. The bill was already approved by the Senate. The Calgary/Lethbridge area is a market of nearly 2 million people within a five-hour drive of the Flathead. There is tremendous potential to grow our trade and tourism relationship with Canada and passage of this bill will be an important step in that direction.
HB 204: This bill strengthens laws related to liability waivers and releases and will provide some common sense protections for the outfitting and recreation industries including skiing, rafting, horseback riding, that are such important drivers of our Northwest Montana economy. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Hertz of Polson. It was approved by the House and will now be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB 213 and HB 156: The advanced manufacturing and technology sectors continue to deliver great benefits to our economy and quality of life. Two bills will help advance our technology companies and their policy interests. HB 213 increases the business equipment tax exemption from $100,000 to $500,000 and HB 156 eliminates property taxes on any mandated pollution equipment put into service after 1/1/2014. Both of these bills provide incentive for early investment in new equipment that will help existing businesses expand and make our state a more attractive place to locate.
Kalispell Bypass: A $35 million state contract to complete the Kalispell Bypass by 2016 is scheduled for final approval by the end of May. This contract is at risk due to the expiration of the federal highway bill. We are urging our Congressional delegation to provide full funding for a multi-year highway bill, and also urging the Department of Transportation to make the completion of this project a priority and keep it on schedule so that the full benefits of the project may be realized.
The second half of the session will have the primary goal of passing a budget in the remaining workdays. A careful look at tax reform and spending will become the main focus and two bills by local legislators will take center stage. HB 166 by Rep. Keith Regier would permanently reduce income tax rates two-tenths of one percent. SB 171 by Sen. Bruce Tutvedt simplifies the income tax system by eliminating many credits and makes filing easier.
Speaking of the budget, school funding bills are sailing through the Legislature. Flathead Valley Community College’s funding in HB 2 is moving along as planned. And, HB 27 containing the inflationary increases for K-12 has already passed both houses and is on its way to the governor for signature.
The Kalispell Chamber appreciates the work of the entire Flathead delegation as they continue their challenging work in Helena. We encourage everyone in the Flathead Valley to get involved and contact your legislator if you have any questions.
Joe Unterreiner, president
Kalispell Chamber of Commerce
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