State Legislature 2020: Emma Kerr-Carpenter
I am running for office because I want to ensure that all Montanans are healthy, educated, and able to pursue their dreams. I was inspired to run after I saw how previous legislatures had fallen down on this duty. After the devastating cuts during the 2017 special session that decimated the mental health system, I knew that Montana could and should have better leadership. Today, as we ride the waves of a pandemic and turbulent economy, we need leaders who are willing to make difficult decisions and find creative solutions to balance Montana’s budget without hurting Montana’s mainstreet businesses or our hardworking families.
My policy priorities heading into the 2021 legislative session are:
- Affordable, quality healthcare to strengthen and protect our community
- Invest in our future with quality education for all children in Montana
- Ensure that all Montanans enjoy clean air and water, and have access to our beautiful outdoors.
My other priority is to ensure that the unique needs of Billings are being addressed at the state level. I love my city and want to make sure that we are getting the state funding and support we need to flourish and attract tomorrow’s workforce. Accomplishing my policy priorities will result in a stronger, healthy community where my children want to raise their children.
My job as a policymaker is to problem-solve so that we can accomplish our immediate needs and continue to invest in our state’s future. I believe that the point of having a state government is to help our community flourish. For our community to flourish we must invest in the people who live here. Study after study shows that investments in schools, in health insurance, and in childcare more than pay for themselves by creating a population that earns more, is healthier, and commits fewer crimes. When we starve our state by refusing to invest in schools, refusing to make sure kids have enough to eat, and not ensuring that families have healthcare and housing, we are not just directly harming our neighbors, we are also harming ourselves by stifling future prosperity. I do not believe in achieving short term financial stability for the state by sacrificing the state’s future.
I love hearing the input of my constituents through phone calls, text messages, emails, or interactions out in the community. When my constituents take the time to reach out about an issue, I listen and try to do what they are asking. I also try to keep folks apprised of what is happening in the legislative process via social media and through at least one mailing during the middle of the session. However, I also acknowledge that there are a lot of decisions that are made during the legislative process that are either uncontroversial “clean up” bills or are very technical. For example, bills that ensure our state tax code aligns with federal code or bills that clean up redundancies. For these sorts of bills, I feel it is the best use of resources in terms of time and taxpayer dollars to use my best judgment and listen to subject matter experts.
As a Democrat who served in a majority Republican legislature, none of my priorities were achieved without support from my friends and colleagues across the aisle. In 2019, I ran a bill expanding social work licensure to benefit rural parts of Montana that have a hard time attracting and retaining highly licensed social workers. I worked with Republicans in the House and the Senate to move the bill through the chambers and onto the Governor’s desk. Their feedback strengthened the bill and ultimately made it a better product for the people of Montana.
In the 2019 session I served on the House Tax Committee. I supported every local option authority bill that came before the committee. Every community has different needs and should be allowed to craft the local option tax that makes the most sense for their community. The only sideboards I think are necessary are ensuring that it only applies to luxury items. I fully support more scrutiny of our tax system and how we raise revenue. I am in favor of a variety of changes to our tax system from simple tweaks to taxation rates or putting sideboards on tax deductions, to larger changes, such as adding more income tax brackets. Another source of revenue we should examine is our fees and licenses. Montana collects fees across state government to fund various programs, everything from registering a vehicle to hunting tags and fishing licenses to professional licensure. The revenue from these fees fund important services for taxpayers and visitors to Montana. There are many fees across state government that have not kept up with inflation and are no longer completely funding the program they were meant to fund. This has resulted in funding shortfalls that have had to be made up by the general fund.
Additionally, some fees are laughably small compared to the same fees levied by states that we consider our peers. There needs to be work done to ensure that fees across state government keep up with inflation, are in line with industry standards, and are comparable to those charged by peer states.
I would support liability protections for businesses that follow all public health recommendations. This includes requiring proper mask usage for all employees and customers and refusing service to customers who refuse to follow public health guidelines.
The biggest improvement I would make to the 2019 Medicaid expansion bill is lifting the sunset on the bill. We have five years of data that shows Medicaid is an important investment in the health of Montanans and the health of our economy. This is particularly true in Billings where one of our biggest economic drivers is the medical sector. It will continue to be true the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues. I will continue to support full funding of the program.
Montana may be luckier than many states in that our projected revenue shortfall is going to be much smaller than many states. That said, legislators are going to have to get creative with existing funds unless the federal government provides relief for state and local budgets. Our state budget is already very lean, especially after the 2017 session. Further cuts should be a method of last resort after the legislature has utilized all possible funds from special revenue accounts, made internal loans, and reduced revenue expenditures (i.e. tax credits).
I think that the ideas in SB340 [the 406 Impact District bill] were interesting and I can see how beneficial they would be for Billings and the State. The biggest revisions I would need to see to be comfortable with the bill would be a better definition for “public asset” that is narrow and reasonable and legal mechanisms ensuring that the financial liability is not somehow passed to the state and local governments if the private sector partners default on their commitments. 406 Impact Districts have the potential to bring a lot of capital into Montana. It is important to me that capital attracted to the state by SB340 economic development tool churns through our local economies as many times as possible. One way to ensure this is by applying state procurement policies that normally apply to large infrastructure projects: private partners would need to comply with competitive bidding for supplies, use union workers, pay prevailing wages, and utilize Montana-based firms if economical. I would also support an ongoing framework that requires businesses who do business in facilities that utilize the SB340 economic development tool pay a living wage and respect union protections for workers.
This is a membership communication paid for by the Billings Chamber of Commerce and provided for the benefit of our members.