Earlier this decade Bozeman underwent a symbolic change when the name "Gallatin Field" disappeared, replaced by "Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport." The change wasn't to inform locals of our proximity to a national treasure. No, the change reflected the continuing evolution of Montana's economy and continuing growth of tourism and outdoor recreation.
As we continue to chart a course in the 21st century, Montana's largest economic drivers and job creators are shifting from resource development to health care, tourism and outdoor recreation. Suddenly, less revenue is being generated by traditional sources: agriculture, oil and coal.
This is one of the reasons why the Governor, Democrats and leadership in both parties proposed a balanced solution in the recent legislative special session.
Our simple pitch: Patch the state's budget gap produced by a revenue shortfall and a historic fire season with three equal parts: difficult budget cuts, money transfers of existing funds and increased revenue from hotels rooms and rental cars, which are predominantly utilized by out-of-state visitors.
Increased revenue from these sources would avoid further budgetary cuts harming Montanans.
More than a million passengers transit through Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport annually, that’s the population of our entire state. This number includes countless tourists and out-of-state visitors who use our roads, state lands and public services without paying their share.
As a state and community, we are subsidizing vacations from 49 other states with our infrastructure and our tax dollars at a time when many Montanans can’t afford their own trips. We should pass reasoned legislation to capture these out-of-state dollars while embracing the successes of our 21st century economy.
If we don’t, then Montana will be forced to revisit this budget crisis again.
Unfortunately, during the special session this idea was met with intransigence from Republicans who put their political party over their neighbors.
Republican legislative leaders ignored the need for an open process and sober analysis of our financial standing. Instead they used their legislative majority to skirt transparency laws by hosting secret meetings steeped in political gamesmanship, introducing tax bills with no financial analysis and passing malicious legislation targeting small populations with no pertinence to state revenue.
Most galling, Republicans created a lose-lose situation for Montana by passing just two options: Approve a pork barrel kickback with a Shelby-area private prison benefiting an out-of-state corporation and local legislators or cut $32 million more from Montana’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.
On Friday, Governor Bullock made the right call and announced his intent to veto legislation which had been jammed through by partisans to furlough hardworking employees at our state agencies. When the author of the legislation, Rep. Barry Usher (R-Billings), was asked why his furlough legislation only waylaid employees of Montana’s executive branch, and not the state employees who write bills for the legislature, he said “because it was difficult to ask someone to draft a bill that would potentially result in their furlough.”
The Republicans who forced through a temporary pink slip for state employees are admitting they didn't want to have a difficult conversation eye-to-eye with someone impacted by their proposal.
Capturing that sentiment – If a difficult eye-to-eye conversation is what it takes to sympathize with Montanans about how additional cuts will hurt seniors, working families and students, then we’d like to make a standing offer to our legislative colleagues who oppose new revenue generated from out-of-state visitors…
We are happy to broker a conversation between you and a senior who is losing services, a college student dropping out due to rising costs, a teacher buying classroom supplies with their own money or a family working full time but still unable to make ends meet.
If a difficult conversation is the difference between cutting more services and raising revenue from out-of-state sources, they'd be happy to meet with any legislator.