Uncommon Ground

Preemptive Home Law

Gov. Greg Gianforte should veto HB 259, letting people living in places like Whitefish, Bozeman or Missoula decide local matters like housing

By Mike Jopek

Montana stepped on the accelerator and rushed into the right lane. Politics took an abrupt turn, much sharper than other states in America. We knew it was coming. The warnings were visible. Many didn’t believe there was sufficient political oxygen that far into the breakdown lane where the rumble strips slow traffic. 

Over the past three months, Republicans in the state Legislature have been transforming Montana to fit their beliefs. Republicans passed a bill to preempt the fastest growing places of our state from continuing existing worker housing programs that were enacted through years of public involvement and at the behest of the local business community. 

It’s now up to Montana’s new Republican governor. He alone holds the pen to either veto HB 259 or use the heavy hand of the state to end an effective worker housing plan in exploding markets. “This bill is meant to specifically undo what a local government, Whitefish, has done,” Sen. Ellie Boldman of Missoula told the Senate.

Twenty years ago, as a young member of the local planning board and housing authority I routinely heard how housing was unaffordable to workers in our small town. School administrators testified how teachers struggled to purchase homes in the district. Since then, not many developers working our exploding town’s economy volunteered to build housing that locals could afford.

In recent years, the local chamber of commerce, at the request of hundreds of local business members, developed a successful plan with the city to allow local workers the opportunity to live in town. 

I thought back, couldn’t recall anyone during the last election cycle, or frankly anytime, when candidates campaigned to end worker housing in places like Bozeman or Whitefish, the fastest growing places of our state, and cities that draw millions of tourists annually into Montana. 

I viewed the Montana Republican Party platform where it says they support “efforts to return control and authority to local communities, as the government closest and most responsive to the people.” 

The Republicans continued: “State government should be responsible for its actions affecting local government and all state restrictions on self-government should be extremely limited and narrowly constructed.” Furthermore, Republicans tout they’ll “promote legislation for more local control.” 

Those platitudes say state Republicans should favor local control. Gov. Greg Gianforte should veto HB 259, letting people living in places like Whitefish, Bozeman or Missoula decide local matters like housing. HB 259 will damage our community. 

Tim Sheehy, the CEO of Bridger Aerospace, wrote about HB 259 in the Bozeman Chronicle: “We have a young and well compensated workforce who are trying to move from renters to owners and build lives in Bozeman, but they can’t afford an $850,000 condo. Instead of scaling to 500 employees here in Bozeman, we are looking to open satellite operations out of state, pushing our talent to more affordable cities in the region. Montana used to be an attraction for our recruiting efforts with beautiful mountains and a low cost of living, it has become a hurdle to convince folks to move here and downsize from a four-bedroom ranch home into a two-bedroom condo.”

On the Senate floor, Kalispell Republican Keith Regier said about HB 259, “This is a good bill.” Democrat Boldman implored, “You will turn us into Jackson Hole, you will turn us into Aspen, if you don’t allow us to respond to the needs of our own community.”

As Montana Republicans seek to end worker housing in Whitefish, the moderate-minded among us should let the governor know how hard locals and businesses labored over the decades to put together a sensible plan to housing that works for our community. 

Our kids, local employees, and small business owners must have the same opportunities the rest of us enjoy to live, recreate, and work in our towns. 

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