Meeting with Helena business leaders Friday, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte touted recently enacted tax reform, saying that a thriving economy is the only way to pay for national defense, infrastructure and schools.
Gianforte’s roundtable with the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce included the organization’s top investors providing feedback on tax reform, health care, gun control and drug addiction.
Late last year, Republican majorities passed sweeping reforms including reducing the corporate tax rate and doubling child tax credits. The reforms aim to bolster economic growth with companies keeping more capital to invest in infrastructure and wages.
Critics of the tax bill believe it overly benefits large corporations and the wealthy over the middle class, while also adding nearly $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. National polls showed an overall skepticism of the Republican plan while many Democrats have vowed to use its passage in 2018 campaigns.
“I think it’s the best thing we can do to help increase business,” Gianforte told the roundtable, before asking for feedback. He believes money is more wisely spent by individuals and touted reports of companies that issued employee bonuses or raised wages.
Jeff Arbizzani, market president with U.S. Bank in Helena, said his company raised the lowest wage employees to $15 per hour as well as issued bonuses as a result of the tax cut.
“From an economic standpoint across the board, we’re seeing activity and increased revenues,” he said.
John McLaughlin with Stockman Bank and chamber executive board member, praised Gianforte’s businesses credentials – he started and sold RightNow Technologies in Bozeman – and said his daughters who are teachers have noticed bigger paychecks.
The stories are ones that Gianforte says he has already been hearing and predicted will continue.
Ross Duncan, president of Valley Bank, believed reinvestment is likely but felt more time is needed to fully understand the results of the tax reforms.
“I think it’s too soon to tell,” she said, adding that initial tax relief may take some pressure off individuals, “but it hasn’t quite hit home yet.”
Gianforte was asked about infrastructure and said Congress has yet to see the details of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion plan. He wants more investment in rural water projects, but emphasized that he sees economic growth as essential for financing infrastructure. He also sees economic growth as a means of financing non-profits, some of which have seen federal funding cuts.
In answering a question about Helena’s workforce shortage, Gianforte said low labor participation rates are a national issue and welfare programs deserve scrutiny with an emphasis of getting people on welfare working again.
“We’re not talking about young people … not talking about seniors, we’re talking about able bodied adults that are getting paid not to work today,” he said, going on to suggest work or volunteer requirements.
Gianforte also sees methamphetamine and opioids through not only a societal but an economic lens, with increases in crime and a negative effect on potential employees. He believes communities and families are best equipped to address the drug crisis, saying that “no regulation the government passes” is going to fix the breakdown of a family unit.
The freshman congressman has been surprised at the amount of legislation passed through the House that the Senate has yet to act on, and the lack of national media attention it has garnered.
While some companies have used tax breaks to reinvest or pay employees, others are using the capital to buy back stock, boosting the price of shares which increases a company’s cash position and benefiting shareholders.
When asked about companies deciding against reinvestment in favor of buybacks, Gianforte said that it is up to corporations to decide how to spend tax cuts under a free market. Buybacks are not without benefits, he said, pointing to increases for retirement plans and investors that can benefit the economy.
With tax reform complete, some Republicans have begun speaking out about reducing spending. One such means of spending reduction is entitlement reform. Gianforte says Congress will not touch Social Security benefits, but does see space for reducing fraud and increasing efficiencies.
Gianforte did not directly address Medicare or Medicaid, and a request for clarification from his office was not returned in time for this story.