Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

What’s the Plan?

Our congressional delegation and state Legislature must pass a Montana outdoors and main street jobs plan

The rattling bugle was far down in the marsh. The gooselike honks sounded familiar. Initially the trumpeting is a bit alarming as Sandhill Cranes are big, fast moving birds that can be quite territorial during springtime.

Cranes have that prehistoric look to them as they fly over the farm and land in the Blanchard Lake area wetlands. It’s an active time on the many lakes around town as geese, ducks, and loons are also making noise, letting everyone know to share the space, keep your distance.

Share the space we must. Thankfully the great outdoors remains a part of who we are in the Flathead. It feels key to our routine and survival.

Off in the distance the hum of U.S. Highway 93 has dramatically escalated over the past few weeks as people tire of sheltering and Montana slowly opens back up for business. People are clearly out and about, taking care of duty and necessity, hopefully safely in an era where a deadly virus remains invisible.

These are hard times. Over 50,000 Montanans will have lost their jobs soon. The most job losses are in tourism areas like the Flathead, but every sector of our economy has taken a blunt punch to the nose. No one gets off free. Some suffer more than others, a lot more.

Through March, the U.S. economy sank 5% from the beginning of the year. That’s already less than half of what we saw during the 2008 Great Recession. And the worst is still to come, lingering in front of us like that deadly virus.

Last month the Congressional Budget Office released an economic forecast that estimates that from April to June of this year unemployment is predicted to be 14%, a staggering 16% from July thru September, and 12% for the last quarter of this year.

Overall the congressional forecasters predict unemployment to be 11% for 2020 and 10% for 2021. That’s one painful prediction.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana optimistically reports that “personal income in 2020 will be $3.9 billion lower in Montana than was projected in December, a downward revision of 7.1 percent.”

If the feds want to help, let’s put locals to work and do it outdoors. Flathead crews could build 100 miles of shovel-ready public trails and dozens of public access trailheads this summer. It’s good outdoor work.

Congress should put more people to work in 2020, safely building infrastructure much during like the Great Depression and to a lesser extent, the recent Great Recession.

Congress could fund universal basic income for the next couple years, but it won’t. Like it or not, people must earn a living and people must go back to work when the bills come due.

Those workers leery of returning to work for safety reasons may quickly see other willing workers seeking jobs. We’ll see how fast Montana can open before getting sick.

This is a good time for the feds to help rebuild the outdoor infrastructure in Montana. We’re used to hard work and love out great outdoors.

The contagious virus is hitting the health, economy and jobs of our valley hard. There’s no winner, only survivors. Our congressional delegation and state Legislature must pass a Montana outdoors and main street jobs plan.

By fall state income tax revenues will likely plummet as fast as personal incomes. Even during the Great Recession it took billions of federal dollars to back fill the state budgets across the nation. This go is much worse. Someone must have a plan.

Thank God we live in rural places with good access to the great outdoors, places where cranes and wildlife still live, sheltering in the pine trees and marsh grasses by our lakes.