Former Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order during the midst of the pandemic last year to allow restaurants to deliver beer and wine with meals. Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, and Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, have co-sponsored Senate Bill 320, which will approve the measure permanently. The Montana Tavern Association are in support of the bill, pointing out that people can already have drinks delivered on resort property

Owners Mike Davis and LaDelle Reynolds are closing  the North Valley Ag Center in Columbia Falls on April 30. The facility has been sold to an event business.

Carolina Cotman. a yoga instructor, has opened the Samaa Retreat Center. formerly a bed and breakfast known as the Candlewycke Inn will still be open for traditional lodging this summer but going forward the Retreat Center will focus on wellness retreat experiences.

The  proposal to build an outdoor recreation park near  Flathead Lake has drawn opposition from neighbors. The proposed amendment to the county’s regulations would allow for commercial outdoor recreation activities, which  would specifically prohibit swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts.

Glacier National Park plow crews are working about a mile beyond the Loop on the road’s west side. In 2020 the plows didn’t make it to the Loop until April 14. Outdoor enthusiasts should expect ice on some portions of the roadway. There is also the threat of avalanches at and beyond Avalanche Creek.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell, the Montana judge who approved a search warrant for the Unabomber’s cabin has retired. The Judge also  presided over the Unabomber’s first few court appearances,

The Newberry, a new event center located at 420 Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls will open this fall. The center plans on hosting 90 plus events each year and bring large numbers of people to downtown Great Falls. More information can be found on the centers website,

Avelo Airlines has announced flights between Bozeman and Burbank beginning April 30. Avelo is a new commercial airline, which previously operated as a charter airline under a different name. Avelo will be the 10th airline that flies out of the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport

Work is set to begin soon on the cleanup of  the Harlowton railyard that’s contaminated with asbestos and petroleum. The cleanup of the Harlowton railyard is part of the attempt to revitalize a 180-acre site. About 3,000 cubic yards of asbestos-tainted soil will be dug up site by the end of this month, wrapped in plastic and hauled to a Great Falls landfill. Work will resume this fall by  removing contaminated soil from another area that once had a 500,000 gallon fuel tank.

ROAM Beyond has opened its third location in Northwest Montana. ROAM Beyond’s Cabins sleep three to four people with features such as heated bedding, full bathrooms and induction stoves. Sites include fire pits, heated outdoor gathering spaces and the main attraction: tiny mobile camper units.

St. Peter’s Health officials, of Helena, have announced that the hospital will affiliate with Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. The agreement will give patients undergoing cancer and hematology care access to more options for treatment and provide top cancer experts. Huntsman now has six affiliate cancer centers across the Mountain West region. All affiliates are independent, not-for-profit health systems. 

Yellowstone Park officials have announced that they expect to open roads leading to Old Faithful and Canyon Village this week. The first road sections planned to open are from the west entrance to Old Faithful, from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful and from Norris to Canyon Village. Masks will be required in buildings and at any time when social distancing isn’t possible. Park-run visitor centers will stay closed. Yellowstone National Park Lodges is scheduled to open some of its accommodations later this month. Dining options will be limited to takeout only.

Certain USDA Service Centers in Montana are beginning to reopen to limited visitors by appointment only. Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff also continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools.

Montana producers intend to plant 2.90 million acres (1.17 million hectares) of HRS in 2021, down 12% from last year, but in line with the 5-year average. Montana spring and winter wheat acres typically share an inverse relationship and this year is no different. Montana winter wheat acres are up 13% on the year at 1.75 million acres (708,000 hectares). Dryness has producers on edge, but favorable spring wheat prices will encourage them to plant into dry soil, despite the drought risk. (From Northern Ag Network)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.7 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to Bear Paw Development Corporation of Northern Montana, Havre, to capitalize and administer a Revolving Loan Fund that will provide critical gap financing to coronavirus-impacted small businesses in Blaine, Chouteau, Hill, Liberty, and Phillips counties. This EDA grant is expected to create 50 jobs, retain 70 jobs, and generate $3 million in private investment.

A unique ice cream shop has opened in Fairview. DJ’s Ice Cream Parlor & YakAttak Coffee, 308 S. Interstate Ave., sells all sorts of specialty coffees, ice cream, snow cones, cotton candy, according to Jessica Shaffer, who owns the business with her family, Michael, Bethany, Whitney, Dakota, and Tyrell.

The Gallatin County Health Board voted to extend the county’s face mask mandate into May. The mask mandate expires on May 27, and the reopening guidelines expire on May 10. A meeting in early May will be held to determine whether to continue with the government mandate.

Enplanements at the Bozeman Yellowstone International in March were about 80-85 percent of March in 2019. Airport Director Brian Sprenger said they are expecting a continual increase through summer. The airport’s summer flight schedule includes non-stop service to 29 summer markets, a record for the airport by nine airline brands. Delta Airlines is going to resume selling middle seats beginning in May after changing up COVID-19 safety precautions.

The Montana VA Health Care System opened a $12 million state-of-the-art primary care clinic at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center, where veterans will remain in a single appointment room and each provider will come to them in a one -stop shop approach.

AC Hotels, the modern, design-driven brand from Marriott, opened its first property to Montana, the AC Hotel Missoula Downtown. The newly-constructed property is managed by Aimbridge Hospitality. 

The Daily Post Building in Uptown Butte has new ownership, after suffering damage from a fire a year ago. A renowned Butte family known as the Markovich’s closed the sale on St. Patrick’s Day. Corey and his wife, Kristi Markovich are ready to take on the historic building and its current problems. They plan about $1 million in renovations to the building that used to be home to the Irish Times Bar, the Post bar, and Muddy Creek Brewery.

When it comes to surviving capriciously imposed economic restraints on business, Montana is among the states least likely able to survive. It ranks third from the bottoms according to Wallet Hub.

Only Nevada and Hawaii fared worse.

Across the country around 100,000 businesses having closed permanently during 2020, said WalletHub, in a report on the States With the Most Pandemic-Proof Small Businesses, along with accompanying videos.

Pennsylvania has proven to be the most pandemic-proof state.

“One of the major reasons why …is that it has the lowest percentage of small-business employees operating in highly affected industries,” said Wallet Hub. “Highly-affected industries only comprise 41 percent of all small-business employment in Pennsylvania, the lowest percentage in the U.S., too,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “Other key reasons why Pennsylvania has the most pandemic-proof small businesses are that it has experienced the fourth quickest recovery of unemployment claims and it has the fourth largest share of small businesses who received financial assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).”

To identify the states where businesses have the greatest potential to recover, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 11 key metrics. Below, are some of the highlights regarding Montana:

Pandemic-Proof Small Businesses in Montana (1=Best, 25=Avg.):

* 50th – Share of Small Businesses Operating in High-Risk Industries

* 47th – Share of Small-Business Employees Operating in High-Risk Industries Among Total Small-Business Employees

* 22nd – WalletHub’s “States Whose Weekly Unemployment Claims Are Recovering the Quickest” Score

* 48th – Share of Small Businesses Who Received Financial Assistance from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

* 25th – Small Business Friendliness Grade – “State Response to COVID-19” Grade

State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Ronda Wiggers reported on what was a “huge victory for NFIB and all small businesses in Montana” —the liability protection against unfair COVID lawsuits.

NFIB lobbied and testified extensively for passage of Senate Bill 65, which Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law on February 10. Quite simply, the new law states, “a person is not liable for civil damages for injuries or death from or relating to exposure or potential exposure to covid-19 unless the civil action involves an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, or intentional tort.”

With his signature, the governor made Montana the 17th state to have some form of liability protection against lawsuits accusing small businesses of being the source of someone’s contracting COVID-19, which could have been contracted anywhere.

Wiggers said, “Montana’s Main Street businesses breathed a collective sigh of relief after Gov. Gianforte signed SB 65 into law . . . The Governor’s action sends a clear message that he will not allow Montana small businesses to become victims of frivolous lawsuits. I commend Senator Fitzpatrick for shepherding this vital piece of legislation through the Legislature, and thank the Governor for signing it into law. Small businesses can now turn back to their normal, everyday struggles of keeping their doors open and working towards Montana’s economic recovery.”

Eight more states are racing to enact similar laws after Congress failed to come up with a national standard.

Over the past several years affordable housing has become a nationwide concern. The year 2020 exacerbated these concerns by adding record unemployment claims and record business closures, on top of continuously rising housing costs. One of the starkest factors driving this trend is the lack of available housing supply in the United States.

This figure shows the number of single-family homes available for sale throughout the calendar year in the U.S. for the years 2018-20. Historically there have been roughly 1 million homes for sale at the beginning of the calendar year. This number tends to rise through the spring and early summer, peak in late summer, and fall back to around 1 million by the end of the calendar year. That trend saw a major deviation in 2020.

While the year started with the same number of homes for sale as in previous years, the housing inventory did not rise through the spring, and started falling precipitously through the summer and fall. The available supply of single-family homes for sale at the end of 2020 was little more than half of the inventory at the beginning of the year. As of January 2021, there were less than 576,000 available single-family homes for sale across the country. With  vastly fewer homes for sale nationwide, buyers are acting fast to make deals. The demand side is driving the recent housing market boom. 

From article in Montana Business Quarterly, by Brandon Bridge, “Montana’s Unaffordable Housing Crisis.”

It’s not uncommon that good news for one industry means bad news for another, and so it is with the historically high prices of lumber. While Montana’s wood products industry can expect a good year, it plays a negative role for construction and the housing industry where high prices may push many projects off the drawing boards.

A report in the Montana Business Quarterly about a study done by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research predicts that 2021 will be a “generally positive” year for the lumber business.” Lumber and plywood demand is expected to remain strong and prices remain historically high.

Of course those high prices have much to do with the high demand for housing, which is good for the construction business.

In their report Steven Hayes and Todd Morgan say “New housing starts continue to increase, interest rates are low, and the home repair and remodel markets are expected to contribute to strong wood products sales.”

“Likewise, there are positive signs for Montana on the forest management side. State and federal agencies continue to cooperate under the 2014 Farm Bill’s Good Neighbor Authority to restore forest health, reduce wildfire hazard and harvest timber to meet ecological and economic objectives.”

And, while there were impacts on the industry because of slow-downs caused by COVID-19, 2020 was not a bad year for the lumber industry.

“Remarkably, sales from Montana’s industry during 2020 were up about 15% compared to 2019 because of the higher prices for wood products.” But one part of the country did not have the same experiences as other parts, explained the authors in their article, “Lumber Prices Skyrocket During Pandemic.” In their study they collected data and compared it to other parts of the country.

They concluded, “…the economic fundamentals of supply and demand played out differently in the national markets for wood products (i.e., lumber) versus the local markets for timber (i.e., logs).”

“During the second half of 2020, the demand for lumber used in new home construction, repairs and remodeling far exceeded the supply of lumber being produced by mills in the U.S. and Canada, causing lumber prices to rise all over the country. Meanwhile, sawmills in the Southeast enjoyed very low prices for logs from local landowners. This was due to many private landowners in that region who have been planting and growing trees for decades. The homebuilding bust of 2009 through 2012 meant a lot of timber did not get cut and was left on the stump to keep growing. Thus, the glut of available timber in the Southeast resulted in low prices for logs in the region. Even though more sawmills are being built there, the over-supply of logs is expected to exceed the capacity of mills for years to come. For many landowners the investments they made in planting and tending their forests did not yet pay off, but for mills and mill workers in that region the ample supply of logs was good news.”

COVID increased lumber demand as shutdowns and stay-at-home mandates left many people with time to do home improvement projects, which increased the demand for wood products, at a time the industry was experiencing production slowdowns, supply chain disruptions and general confusion. Imports from Canada also decline at the same time.

“Montana mills were generally able to continue operating throughout the year. Lumber production in Montana for 2020 was 428 million board feet (MMBF), down 10.8% compared to 2019. Employment in the state’s wood products facilities was down 3%, and worker income slipped 7.8% compared to 2019. However, few of these declines can be directly attributed to COVID-19.”

Who owns the timberlands makes a difference in what happens in the market. Montana’s land ownership is different than that in the South. “Different policies for public versus private ownership of timber influence those ownerships’ ability to respond to price signals from markets.”

In the South, “…less than 13% of timberland is publicly owned. Most of the public timberland is state-owned, about 30% of timberland is in corporate ownership and about 57% is owned by private individuals or families (USDA 2021).”

“In Montana, over 62% of timberland is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, another 5% is owned by the state, and another federal agency – the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – owns about 4% (USDA 2021). About 29% of timberland in Montana is owned by private landowners including Native American tribes, and the amount of privately owned timberland is declining, particularly the amount of industrial timberland that is owned by companies that also own or operate mills.”

“The large share of private ownership of timberland in the South has been a boon for the wood products industry in that region, enabling the growth of the South’s wood products industry during the past three decades of decline in Montana’s industry. That public-private divide has not just impacted the supply of timber, which can hardly be overstated as a major factor influencing the industry. The large amount of private land ownership in the South also contributes to growth in the region’s home construction and population, which have boosted regional demand for wood products and the number of available workers. Canadian lumber companies have recognized these trends and made major investments in the South, buying and expanding mills in that region, which has a large supply of available logs, growing demand for lumber and a growing labor supply”

Timberland ownership has been changing in Montana.

“… Montana had more than 1.6 million acres of industrial timberland in 1989. Today, approximately 800,000 acres of timberland are corporate or industrial ownership.”

Substantial amounts of private industrial timberland have been sold in the past two decades. 

“Changing private ownership of timberland in Montana is not new but has resulted in more public land and less consolidated ownership among private owners. This has raised concern among Montana’s recreation community and may create more uncertainty in timber supply for the state’s wood products industry. Timber harvest from industrial and nonindustrial private lands has been declining in recent years, while the harvest from U.S. Forest Service lands has been increasing, and state-owned harvest has been fairly consistent.”

To develop a plan to extend water and sewer into the TEDD in Lockwood was given a green light by county commissioners in discussions last week with Big Sky EDA staff.

“Get started,” directed Don Jones, Chairman of the Board of Yellowstone County Commissioners.

EDA Director Steve Arveschoug said that they would like to be ready to apply immediately for funds from the state as soon as the State Legislature determines how they want to utilize some of the funds they will receive under the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan (ARP).

The State of Montana is expecting to be allotted $2.7 billion in funds from the ARP, and Yellowstone County is expecting to be allotted $31,283,142, the most of any county in the state.

The House in the Montana Legislature has passed HB-632, and the Senate is currently debating the bill, which directs how to spend almost $2 billion of the $2.7 billion. A focus of the state legislature is to build up Montana infrastructure. The legislature has proposed that $150 million be spent on infrastructure, including water and sewer system development.

While the state legislature is moving forward with HB-632, they are still anticipating more direction from the US Department of the Treasury before finalizing details.

But once the State has finalized their program there may not be a lot of time in which to prepare a project for application, said Arveschoug, a point with which Commissioners seemed to agree. Applications to the state may be due as soon as July 1 with the awards announced in mid-October.

One of Yellowstone County’s top priorities is the development of the TEDD (Targeted Economic Development District) which involves the development of an industrial park at the intersection of Johnson Lane and I-90. One of the basic steps in its development is to extend water and sewer lines from the Lockwood Water and Sewer District (LWSD) across Johnson Lane and into the TEDD district.

“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” said Thom MacLean, project manager for EDA, “This could be the catalyst.” A TEDD functions like a “tif” district in that infrastructure is funded from tax revenues in the increment above the level at which the district was created. But, the tax revenue only increases when development happens, and development doesn’t happen without some basic infrastructure.

The “sooner the better,” urged Dianne Lehm, EDA’s Director of Community Development, “This could be an opportunity to move the TEDD forward and to get it started.” Moving forward entails the engagement of an engineering firm to prepare preliminary plans, designs and cost estimates.

“It is an initial piece… get some ball park figures,” said Commissioner John Ostlund.

“This is such an important project,” said Commissioner Denis Pitman, “This screams everything, economic development.”

“We’ve been at this six years… a lot of people don’t realize how important this project is,” said Woody Woods, who heads the TEDD advisory board, appointed by County Commissioners, who have oversight of the TEDD. “It is a game changer that will bring a lot of business and a lot of jobs.”

The Manager of the Lockwood Water and Sewer District, Mike Ariztia, was also at the meeting and said that the effort has the full support of LWSD. “Anything we can do to affect the costs is a crucial step to move forward,” he said.

The TEDD was on hold for a year while an agreement was ironed out with the City of Billings regarding the treatment of sewage, but that issue was resolved and property owners are currently in the process of applying for inclusion in the Lockwood Water and Sewer District.

MacLean further pointed out that they are also under the gun to get the project underway before the Montana Department of Transportation begins building the Johnson Lane Interchange, which is expected to begin construction next year.

MacLean said that they are estimating that extending the utility lines will cost around $1 million, given that an engineering firm’s estimate in 2019 was $800,000.

Another project that might also be considered for ARP funding, said MacLean, is to build the TEDD access road further north, which would cost about $5 million.

HB-632 allocates money for water and wastewater projects, broadband infrastructure, school districts, economic stabilization grants for businesses, housing and mortgage assistance and a range of health and human services including COVID vaccines and testing, mental health and child care services.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is overseeing the distribution of the ARP funds and is in the processing of writing rules.

Although subject to change, it is projected that some $339 million will be allotted to counties and cities in Montana, above and beyond the State’s $2.7 billion allotment.

Montana counties will receive a total of $207,282,912. Payments will be made in two phases – the first within 60 days of enactment of the law, and the second payment no earlier than 12 months after the first payment.

While Yellowstone County gets the largest allotment of any county in the state, Golden Valley County will receive the lowest, $159,228.

Among the other urban counties, Missoula will receive $23,195,684; Cascade $15,780,435; Flathead $29,132,534; Gallatin $22,193,770; Lewis & Clark $13,465,909; Silver Bow $6,771,549 and Ravalli $8,495, 904.

And for some other counties payments will be: Carbon $2,080,048; Stillwater $1,870,007, Fergus $2,143,079; Jefferson  $2,370,188, Treasure $134,985;Rosebud $1,733,276; Richland $2,095,175; Bighorn $2,583,138; Custer $2,211,348. .

While the Montana State Legislature has authority of how to spend the $2.7 billion, other funds will be issued for specific purposes and directed to specific entities such as the community health centers. In Montana 14 centers will receive over $24 million for COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment. Receiving funds are: Billings (Riverstone, the county health department), Butte, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Hamilton, Hardin, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Libby, Livingston, Missoula and Shelby. Allotments range from less than $200,000 to more than $3 million.

Another $81 million of ARP funds will go to the state’s university system of which half may be used for student assistance.

Other funds will be distributed by the Department of the Treasury directly to entities such as school districts, agencies providing nutrition, airports and public transit systems.

According to the Rockefeller Institute of Government:

The total funds disbursed to cities and municipalities in Montana is $48 per capita, ranking the state 45th in the nation on a per capita basis.

Montana’s $2.7 billion allotment is $852 per capita, ranking it as the 10th highest among the states. The counties in the state are getting  $194 per capita, 49th highest among the states.

New York City is getting the highest allotment per capita at $316.

New York ranks 3rd per capita for allotments to counties. Pennsylvania is first with $222 per capita. Illinois ranked 4th with $200 per capita.

Wyoming ranked in first place in per capita allotment to the State at $1,858.Vermont was 2nd with $1687 per capita. Alaska was 3rd with $1393.

In overall funding – state, counties and cities — California, New York, Texas, and Florida received the most. Montana was second to last, only Alaska got less.

A&E Design, an award-winning design firm in Billings, welcomes Tiffini Gallant to its staff as creative writer. Gallant’s advanced communication degrees from Georgetown University and MSU Billings, and broad experience writing for multiple industries make her a valued addition to the A&E Design team. She will craft copy for the firm’s five locations and diverse clientele, further aiding A&E Design in providing an array of creative services throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Bridger Photonics’ Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology was selected by ExxonMobil for incorporation into the first-ever filing of an application with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use cutting-edge technology for methane emissions and other regulatory compliance.

EPA Regulations (40 CFR Part 60 Subpart OOOOa) require oil and gas producers to inspect their equipment for leaks of methane volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. The regulation prescribes that field crews must visit hundreds of thousands of U.S. production sites on foot and inspect each piece of equipment by hand in search of leaks. While this leak detection process was considered the best available at the time, it is costly and time consuming, and has increased field crews’ exposures to on-site hazards.

Bridger Photonics, Bozeman, was selected after an extensive vetting process including field trials of emerging methane detection technologies to identify more efficient, and more effective ways to detect and quantify methane leaks. Instead of visiting sites on foot, Bridger Photonics scans sites from aircraft using its advanced LiDAR technology, Gas Mapping LiDAR, to sensitively and quickly detect and estimate methane emissions throughout the entire natural gas value chain (production, transmission, and distribution of natural gas). Bridger hands its clients a map that pinpoints (GPS coordinates), images, and estimates the quantity of every detectable emission in the client’s infrastructure.  These data products provide actionable information for field crews to easily find and prioritize leaks.

“What used to take six months for field crews to inspect now takes a matter of days with Gas Mapping LiDAR,” said Dr. Pete Roos, CEO and co-founder of Bridger Photonics. “Bridger precisely locates and accurately quantifies methane emissions across broad areas so operators only need to deploy field crews when a leak is detected. This is a win-win for everyone involved:  Bridger enables responsible operations while saving operators the cost and hazards of unnecessary visits to 60% to 90% of their sites.” 

“We look forward to the EPA process establishing this alternative as equally effective as existing regulatory requirements. Our experience shows us the technology available today can detect leaks more efficiently than the manual processes federal regulations now require,” said Bart Cahir, senior vice president of unconventional at ExxonMobil. “ExxonMobil is deploying next-generation detection technologies under real-world operating conditions as part of our overall commitment to reduce methane emissions in our operations.”  

Bridger Photonics’ Gas Mapping LiDAR is the first technology ever included in, and ExxonMobil is the first company ever to file, an application for an Alternate Means of Emissions Limitation (AMEL) for the EPA regulation. The AMEL application aims to replace ground crew visits with Gas Mapping LiDAR.

“This AMEL application represents a massive breakthrough for the oil and gas industry and for Bridger. We are thrilled to be a part of it.  All the hard work and innovation from our amazing team has paid off,” Roos added.  

Bridger Photonics’ developed Gas Mapping LiDAR, with funding from the US Department of Energy’s advanced research arm, ARPA-E, and won an R&D 100 award in 2019 recognizing the top 100 innovations worldwide for that year.

Big Sky EDC has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). Combined with $200,000 contributed by Big Sky EDC, the total $2 million will capitalize a $2 million Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to be administered by Big Sky EDC for eligible small businesses located in Yellowstone County.

This new EDA RLF will provide a financing niche not only for those businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but also contribute to Big Sky ED’s continued effort to diversify the local economy. The funds will help stabilize and diversity the local economy by targeting lending to new start-up, recovering, or expanding businesses as well as stabilizing existing businesses.

Use of the RLF will be a public/private partnership within the lending community to fill financing gaps primarily brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The EDA RLF will serve several purposes. Funds will be for commercial purposes only and used for working capital, equipment purchases and assistance with commercial real estate acquisitions.

Most for-profit small businesses located in Yellowstone County, or looking to relocate to Yellowstone County, along with business start-ups, will be eligible. Loans will range from $10,000 to a maximum of $250,000 in certain circumstances. It is EDC’s objective to assist as many small businesses as possible. Rates and terms will be competitive and depend on the use of the loan proceeds. These funds are not to be used to replace conventional commercial financing, but rather to be used in partnership with our local lenders and to fill that financing gap not completely available from the private sector.

“Big Sky EDC is very excited at the opportunity to provide this new financing option to assist with the recovery and expansion of our small business community!” – Brandon Berger, Director of Big Sky Finance at BSED.

“This gives BSED additional tools to support entrepreneurs and business growth—which is at the heart of our mission. It is all about building momentum in our economic recovery, and beyond.” – Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director. For more information please reference the recent release – U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $1.8 Million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance to Capitalize Revolving Loan Fund to Serve Businesses in Yellowstone County, Montana.

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

With passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending plan, Democrats are not just trying to enact higher taxes at the federal level – they are also trying to stop states from cutting their own taxes.

At the last minute, Democrats added a provision giving federal bureaucrats veto power over any tax cut from now until 2024 if a portion of the $350 billion in state and local aid is used to “directly or indirectly” offset tax cuts. This provision was inserted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the request of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in order to prevent federal dollars from “subsidizing” tax cuts. This prohibition shows the mentality of the Left – they are OK with providing states with billions of dollars to expand the size of government, but not to reduce taxes for families and businesses.

This vague standard is ripe for abuse and could be broadly applied to block tax cuts across the country for years to come.

The ban violates federalism, infringes on the sovereignty states have over their own tax policy and is an attempt to prevent competition between states.

Tax competition between low-tax states and high-tax states allows voters to see a clear contrast between success and failure. Democrats know that taxpayers have already been voting with their feet.

Over the past decade, millions of people and jobs have moved from high-tax states into states with low or no income taxes, and the ability to work remotely will only amplify this trend.

States such as New York, California and Illinois – which have been spending recklessly for decades – will still be allowed to use the bill’s funds to directly grow the size of government or bail out government union pension funds.

New Hampshire, which does not tax wage income, is looking to adopt a true no income tax by phasing out its 5% tax on interest and dividends income. Several more states – including Arizona, North Dakota, West Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi – are currently exploring ways to put their income taxes on the path to zero.

While the Treasury Department said that Georgia’s proposal to cut state income taxes could go ahead, this is the first of many proposals the federal government may demand a say in.

Senators in swing states that voted for the provision, such as Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., should explain to their states’ citizens why they want former President Barack Obama and Schumer to have veto power over state tax cuts.

Moving forward, Congress should repeal this state tax cut ban.

Fortunately, Republican lawmakers are taking action.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Congressman Dan Bishop, R-N.C.,) have introduced the “Let States Cut Tax Act,” legislation to repeal this provision immediately. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has introduced similar legislation and has called on Treasury to immediately clarify the vague provision so that states are able to proceed with tax cuts.

Unfortunately, Democrats are doubling down on the ban. Last week, Braun went to the Senate floor to ask for his bill to be passed but it was blocked by Manchin.

The fact is, Congressional Democrats have no business dictating to states whether they can or cannot cut taxes. Lawmakers should immediately repeal this prohibition in order to protect tax competition and ensure well run, low tax states can continue to provide tax relief to their residents.