“I Ain’t Been Droppin’ No Eaves Sir, Honest.”
We are nearing the end of the 68th Legislative Session. A week ago, I would’ve bet good money the session would end early, concluding by the end of April. However, after a few conversations in Helena last week, and maybe a little eavesdropping, I’m less inclined to place that bet, considering the hundreds of active bills and an apparent intent to hold a vote on every remaining piece of legislation. Today is legislative day 75, giving lawmakers 15 working days to conclude legislative business. One of the final tasks to be completed is passing a balanced budget. Passing House Bill 2 (the budget bill) is the only thing the legislature is required to do each session. And it’s passage signals the end of the session is near.
Currently, HB 2 has made it through the house and is in the senate. Once it passes through the senate, it will need to head back to the house for concurrence on any amendments or a conference committee. Finally, it’s off to the governor’s desk for signature.
One of the primary questions this legislative session is how lawmakers will appropriate a historic surplus of $2+ billion. Despite the abundance of funding, the April 7th status report shows a negative balance, approximately $122 million in the red, considering active legislation. In order to get the budget in the black and provide the required $130 million ending fund balance (statute requires 4% of total general fund appropriations in the second year of the biennium), lawmakers need to find $252 million by amending and/or killing bills.
Easy, right? That certainly seems to be the case on social media, where everyone is a state budget expert… Maybe you’d like to try your hand at balancing the budget? The Montana Free Press has created an interactive budget calculator which lets you play around with budget changes in order to balance the budget. Will you spend more on film tax credits? Nix an increase in childcare scholarships? Whatever you decide, you’ll have to reduce spending somewhere to provide for the required ending fund balance of $130 million.
The article also notes, “[F]or the sake of illustrative clarity, this tool oversimplifies the full budget picture in a few important ways. For example, it focuses only on spending through the state General Fund, which means it doesn’t account for the billions of dollars in federal money routed through state coffers. It also ignores the state’s complex network of reserve accounts, where money is stashed for unanticipated eventualities.” Give it a try by clicking the graphic below.
No on SB 523, Call to Action: “Muster the Rohirrim”
We’re asking your assistance in helping oppose a detrimental tax increment finance (TIF) bill, SB 523, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz. The biggest impact for Billings will come from section 10 of the bill, which is estimated to reduce the amount of increment by 30 – 50%.
TIF is one of the few economic development tools we have to incentivize private investment. It’s utilized in 48 states and has a track record of success in Billings, funding curbs/gutter/lighting in the Billings Industrial Revitalization District, street projects in the South Billings Urban Renewal Area, and removal of blighted structures to build needed housing in downtown.
Billings also has a policy requirement that TIF applications have a 5:1 ratio of private investment to TIF assistance, but many projects have a much higher ratio—a few last year were 10:1. The program is incentivizing many more private dollars than it’s spending with increment funds.
TIF is assisting with our housing crisis too. Last year, city council approved TIF applications that would cumulatively add over 100 units of housing to our downtown area.
We feel that we have a prudent and effective TIF program in Billings and encourage our members to reach out to the legislature and ask them to vote NO on SB 523.
How you can engage:
- Email the (H) Tax Committee here.
- Virtually testify as an opponent on Tuesday, April 18th at 8:00 am. Register here no later than 5:00 pm Monday.
- If you choose to testify remotely, please keep your statement under two minutes as per the request of Chairman Fielder. He will cut you off at the two minute mark if you go longer. Please do not repeat testimony already given and keep your statement specific to how TIF has benefitted our community or businesses directly.
- Reach out directly to the (H) Tax Committee members you have a relationship with.
House Tax Committee Members
Chair Paul Fielder (R)
V.Chair Mark Thane (D)
V. Chair Tom Welch (R)
Kim Abbott (D)
Brad Barker (R)
Larry Brewster (R)
Alice Buckley (D)
Edward Butcher (R)
Jill Cohenour (D)
Sherry Essmann (R)
Dave Fern (D)
Joshua Kassmier (R)
Scot Kerns (R)
Rhonda Knudsen (R)
Marty Malone (R)
Marilyn Marler (D)
Russel Miner (R)
George Nikolakakos (R)
Melissa Romano (D)
Tanner Smith (R)
Sue Vinton (R)
Partners In Policy Appreciation Reception (May 2 tentative)
You’re invited to a Partners in Policy reception, presented by the Billings Chamber of Commerce and Montana Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday, May 2nd from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the historic Billings Depot.
Come connect with chamber members, industry representatives, and legislators as we raise a glass in celebration of the business wins this legislative session. This was the Montana Chamber’s most prolific legislative session ever, carrying (10) Priority Bills that would improve the business climate in the Treasure State. Regarding the Billings Chamber’s priorities, the legislature made major progress on public safety, tax reform, and workforce issues. From sweeping tort reform to dramatically decreasing the business equipment tax and capital gains tax, to ballot initiative modernization, we are tackling the issues to make Montana the most attractive place to live, work, play, visit, and do business. We would like to thank you, our ‘Partners in Policy’ for helping to make this possible.
Reception will include drink tickets and a cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, and a brief presentation. RSVP’s are required for this event. Let us know you’ll be attending by submitting your RSVP today!
Working for You
Senate Bill 523
Revise MEDIA Act film credit cap
Sen. Greg Hertz (R)
Senate Bill 523 makes significant changes to the state’s tax increment finance (TIF) laws, with negative impacts to the TIF districts in Billings. Section 10 of the bill is estimated to reduce a TIF’s available increment by 30 – 50%. Billings has used TIF prudently and productively to fund needed infrastructure in blighted areas of the city. Last year, city council approved several TIF applications that would provide for over 100 housing units in the downtown area. This bill passed the senate 28 – 22, and will be heard tomorrow morning in (H) Tax.
House Bill 971
Revise environmental policy act
Rep. Josh Kassmier (R)
|The Billings Chamber supports maintaining and increasing Montana energy production, keeping energy affordable and reliable for our businesses and residents. While we recognize the need to continue adding renewable energy sources, our industrial businesses cannot rely on intermittent energy generation provided by renewables. Montana’s refineries, mines, and manufacturers cannot shut down operations because the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. This bill helps ensure that Montana businesses can develop the energy generation that is required while we transition to renewable resources. When Montana energy development is halted by unending lawsuits, the impact to global climate change is infinitesimal, while the impact to hardworking Montanans is substantial. The bill will be heard today in (H) Natural Resources at 3:00 pm.|
Virtual Testimony Makes It Easy
- You will be able to select from the bills scheduled for the next 3 days.
- By 5PM the day before the hearing, you will be able to submit your written testimony, write a brief message, or request a Zoom link to testify in the bill hearing.
- Fill out the form with the pertinent details and submit. You will receive an email confirmation.
- You do not have to testify in order to submit written comments. Written comments received by the deadline will be distributed to all committee members. However, if you request a Zoom link, we request that you write a brief message in the event of technical difficulties so that your name will be entered into the record.
- If you wish to submit written testimony after the 5PM deadline, please call the Information Desk at (406) 444-4800 for assistance.
- Rules of decorum must be followed, and the Presiding Officer will call on you when it is your turn to speak. Follow the Zoom directions and raise your hand to let the Remote Committee Coordinator know when you want to speak. We will not assume that because you requested the Zoom link that you automatically want to testify. There may be limits placed on how many people are allowed to testify remotely on each bill.
Business Advocacy Sponsors
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Billings Chamber’s Business Advocacy Director, Dan Brooks with questions, comments, or just want to chat about the legislature.