2022 presented complex challenges for our state and nation, including inflation, political instability, and a global pandemic. With that backdrop, the 68thLegislature came together with the goal of improving government effectiveness and efficiency while honoring the rugged individualism, institutions and traditions that continue to make Montana the last, best place. How did we do?
Transparency and accountability increased at the state and local level. The 68th Legislature enhanced open meeting laws, supported the Governor’s efforts to cut red tape and to bring a customer-service mindset to state agencies. The 68th invested in and supported “back the blue” and passed legislation designed to reduce crime, drugs, and sex trafficking. The individual rights of Montana citizens were upheld and expanded.
The Legislature used the revenue surplus to help both current and future taxpayers by prudently paying off debt, shoring up reserves, investing in strategic infrastructure, and returning the rest. Current taxpayers will receive one-time payments to help offset inflationary pressures. Other surplus funds will benefit future generations by leveraging more than $2 billion worth of infrastructure investment. Historic investment was directed to address Montana’s mental health crisis and to reinforce our limited prison and jail infrastructure. An attainable housing program is now a reality, childcare access will improve, and providers, including nursing homes, have the resources to serve those in need.
Opportunities for students increased. Montana public education has the flexibility to be fully free from outdated rules, including the antiquated “seat time” requirement, that disenfranchise students and limit parental rights. Montana schools can now choose to adopt the best practices found in the highest-performing schools in the nation. Teacher retention and teacher pay challenges were addressed. Career and technical education opportunities can now expand through business school partnerships across Montana.
The 68th Legislature tailored Montana’s tax system to better serve current and future Montanans’ needs. The income tax and the business equipment tax were reduced, a reduction in property tax for fixed income Montanans is in place, and I personally carried HB 587, which represents 122 million in permanent property tax reductions over the next four years. The flexibility of paying property taxes monthly versus the annual big November bill is now available to Montanans.
This unprecedented infrastructure investment based on a prudent mixture of cash, coal trust funds, and surplus dollars ensures the future economic success of Montana. “Debt free in 2023,” another personal bill of mine (HB 251), is a reality. Future generations will long reap the benefit of the 68th Legislature’s steadfast commitment to fiscally responsible investment.
Despite some difficult days, the 68th Legislature produced for Montana. I did my best to work as a statesman, civil and respectful, but never wavering in my advocacy for Montanans. I remain convinced that Montanans have the resources, ingenuity, work ethic and grit to overcome any obstacle.
It was an honor to serve in Montana’s 68th Legislature.
Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is chairman of House Appropriations.
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