Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Part of the Message from Employers to Lawmakers: Government Can and Should Do Good

By Molly Severtson
Interim Director
The Policy Institute

I'm guessing that the Jobs Listening Session, held Saturday at the Montana Legislature, didn't turn out exactly as the Republicans who planned it had expected. The session was designed to, according to President of the Senate Sen. Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo),"create an opportunity for private-sector Montana employers to come tell us what we can do to help put Montana back to work."

Speaker of the House Mike Milburn's (R-Cascade) description of the intent of the meeting was more to the point: "We are hoping ...employers... give us ideas of what burdensome laws, regulations or tax policies need to be changed or repealed so that these private employers can create opportunity for unemployed Montanans to rejoin the workforce."

I spent the morning in the session designed for Construction and Energy employers. While many of those who spoke gave the expected responses - "cut the red tape, get government out of our way, etc.," - a surprising number of those who spoke said just the opposite.

Mike Dowling, an architect from Helena, urged lawmakers to keep investing in state-financed building projects, Robert Morrison of the engineering firm Morrison-Maierle highlighted the need for public investment in Montana's infrastructure as an important component of a healthy economy and Matt Warner of WTR Consulting Engineers said that a strong infrastructure is, "key to our quality of life in Montana."

Twitter was lighting up with those surprised and pleased by this turn of events, and while House Majority Leader Rep. Tom MGillvray (R-Billings) tweeted, "Business days at capitol: most common concern was worker comp costs and business equipment tax in group I attended," I hope that he and other Republicans heard the other message as well: Government can and should do good when thinking about job creation in Montana.

Another note: During the planning of the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Carol Williams (D-Missoula), along with House Minority Leader Rep. Jon Sesso (D-Butte), had to urge their Republican counterparts to include nonprofit organizations in the session. "We just told them it had to be a broad diverse discussion and have nonprofits as well as for-profits to be able to have a voice," said Sen. Williams.

Just one nonprofit representative spoke at the session I attended, Kathy Hadley of National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in Butte. Perhaps illustrative of a general misunderstanding of nonprofits, NCAT was listed as a "quasi-governmental" organization on the meeting agenda, a point which Ms. Hadley corrected during her testimony.

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