The Center Square

After states shut down schools and forced families into virtual learning, parents and families found new ways to provide K-12 education to their children. While doing so, support for school choice options soared, a new poll from Real Clear Opinion Research found.

Among those surveyed, 71% said they support school choice, which is defined as giving parents the option to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school that best serves their needs. Across all racial and ethnic demographics, an overwhelming majority expressed support for school choice: Blacks (66%), Hispanic (68%), and Asian (66 percent).

These results “were the highest level of support ever recorded from major AFC national polling with a sample size above 800 voters,” the survey states.

Among those surveyed, more held a negative few of teachers’ unions. In one question, it states, “In many states, teachers’ unions have advocated to keep public schools closed and continue virtual learning instead of reopening school buildings. Meanwhile, 92% of private Catholic schools were operating with in-person learning in September. Does this make you feel more or less favorable towards teachers’ unions that oppose re-opening?”

In response, 36% held a more favorable view, 47% a less favorable view.

“The continued very strong support among voters for school choice and spending flexibility for parents of school-aged children is a clear message for policymakers,” John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children, said in response to the survey. “Parents and families are demanding greater choice in K-12 education and they expect policymakers to put the needs of students ahead of the special interests who are bound and determined to protect the status quo.

“The need for education freedom is at an all-time high and it’s reaffirming to see many state policymakers stepping up and supporting school choice across the country. Thirty-two states have introduced 36 bills to create or expand educational choice and we urge policymakers in these states to get these bills over the finish line on behalf of families and students.”

The survey was conducted among 2,009 registered voters between March 12 and 17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.44 percent. It’s a 65% increase in support of school choice from a similar survey conducted in January.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “As this poll clearly shows, ensuring educational access for all is a common-sense, non-partisan issue,” said Buzz Brockway, Georgia Center for Opportunity vice president of public policy, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, a sliver of loud and influential special interest groups work to bar parents, families, and students from achieving true educational equity. We can’t allow that to happen. When 65% of registered voters tell you they support a concept like the Education Scholarship Account idea proposed right here in Georgia, lawmakers need to listen.”

The RealClear poll results follow a similar pattern reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, whose recent Household Pulse Survey found a substantial increase in the number of parents who chose to home-school in 2020 compared to 2019.

In the first week of Phase 1 of the Household Pulse Survey (April 23-May 5), roughly 5.4 percent of U.S. households with school-aged children reported that they home-schooled. By the fall, however, that number jumped to 11.1 percent (Sept. 30-Oct.12).

“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the authors of the report write.

Those who increased home-schooling spanned across all demographics. Notably, among Black households, the proportion of home-schooling increased slightly more than five-fold, from 3.3 percent to 16.1 percent within a three- to five-month time span.

By Michael Vondra

Here’s a long-lasting Mother’s Day gift

Mother’s Day has almost arrived. As an adult, you can fully appreciate all your mother has done for you, so, on this occasion, you may be happy to give Mom flowers, candy, jewelry or something similar. But Mother’s Day is here and then it’s gone. Is there a longer-term gift that can make a real difference in your mother’s life?

Actually, there is – the gift of knowledge for her financial future.

Specifically, there are two key areas in which you may be able to provide valuable help to your mother: long-term care and estate planning. But don’t panic – you don’t have to be an expert in either one of these subjects. You can, however, steer Mom – and possibly your other parent, too, if one is in the picture – in the right direction. Let’s take a quick look at both these topics.

First, consider long-term care. If your mother is in good health, you may not have thought much about whether she would eventually need an extended stay in a nursing home or the services of a home health aide. But the odds aren’t necessarily in her favor: About 70 percent of adults who reach 65 will eventually require some type of long-term service and support, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. And this type of care is expensive: The annual median cost for a private room in a nursing home is more than $100,000, and it’s nearly $55,000 per year for the full-time services of a home health aide, according to a survey by the insurance company Genworth.

Unless your mother has accumulated a great deal of financial resources, she likely won’t be able to pay these costs out of pocket without jeopardizing her financial independence. Furthermore, Medicare typically pays only a small portion of these expenses.

To help your mother deal with this potential financial threat, you might want to suggest she meet with a financial professional, who can explore possible strategies and products designed to address long-term care. And the sooner, the better, because these solutions will become more expensive and challenging the older your mother gets.

The second topic you may want to bring up with your mother is her estate plan. Has she drafted a will? Has she safeguarded her wishes by creating the necessary legal documents? These could include a durable power of attorney for finances, which allows her to name someone to manage her financial affairs if she becomes incapacitated, and a durable power of attorney for health care, which allows someone to make medical decisions for her if she is able to do so herself. 

Having her estate plans in order can help protect your mother’s finances and ensure her legacy is honored – which is almost certainly an outcome she would keenly desire. So, if your mother doesn’t already have a comprehensive estate plan, encourage her to see a legal professional to start the process.

Helping your mother protect herself from the catastrophic costs of long-term care and the chaos of an inadequate estate plan may not sound like a typical Mother’s Day offering, but your actions can help keep Mom in a good place in life –and that’s a pretty valuable gift. 

Sponsored by:

Michael A Vondra

Certified Financial Planner Practitioner

Edward Jones

A new report released by EY finds that repealing the step-up in basis tax provision would damage the gross domestic product (GDP) and significantly decrease job creation. The study was conducted for the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition, which includes almost 60 organizations representing family-owned businesses.  

The EY study found middle-class, family-owned businesses would be particularly hard hit by the repeal. Currently, when someone inherits assets, they aren’t taxed on the appreciation that happened before they inherited them. If family-owned farms, small businesses or manufacturers are forced to pay capital gains accrued by the prior owner, they would likely face large tax bills that put the future of their business at risk.   

According to the study’s findings, repealing the step-up in basis would result in:  

* 80,000 fewer jobs in each of the first ten years;  

* 100,000 fewer jobs each year thereafter; and

* A $32 reduction in workers’ wages  for every $100 raised by taxing capital gains at death. 

It would also reduce GDP relative to the U.S. economy in 2021, by approximately: 

* $10 billion annually;

* $100 billion over 10 years. 

“Repealing stepped-up basis is not a free lunch for those looking to generate tax revenue and would have significant consequences in the multifamily marketplace,” said Doug Bibby, President of the National Multifamily Housing Council. 

Each year the Big Sky Economic Development Authority awards $5000 grants to projects proposed by groups or individuals that will enhance the appearance and enjoyment of locations in the county.

Following are the 2021 recipients and a brief description of the awarded projects:

—Lockwood Optimist Club – Outdoor cinema and seating area and other improvements to Hillner Park

—Broadview Community Center –  Outdoor gathering space/seating area at the community center

—Downtown Billings Alliance – Light Bike Trail in alleyways throughout downtown

—Southside Neighborhood Task Force – Gateway to the Yellowstone River murals at 6th Street underpass and N 13th St underpass

—Underground Culture Krew/Tyson Middle – mural at the Skatepark on S. 27th St

— Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter – mural and honor/memorial fence at YVAS entrance

— Billings Community Foundation/Eat.Share.Give – Community Gardens

By Evelyn Pyburn

In gathering up the latest on some of the actions of the state legislature, some observations just couldn’t be avoided….

One positive that will hopefully emerge from the COVID crisis is the understanding that state and federal laws in general are barriers to efficient, prompt and affordable health care. That President Trump and now the Montana state legislature has interceded to eliminate many of the bureaucratic barriers to healthcare is nothing but good. But, let’s be honest, it’s been the health industry establishment in collaboration with government, that has long stood in the way of faster and more affordable health care processes in the quest to sustain the bottom line for the industry. Now that the establishment has gained some control over the technology, the industry is less guarded about its use, but one has to admit there’s been a lot of unnecessary foot-dragging that surely had the consequences of greater suffering, maybe even death, and certainly greater costs to consumers. Long before now, they should have let the market prevail and many should be ashamed that they did not.

Kind of along those same lines – who knew? How many people really realized that a law was needed to  to allow a doctor and patient to do business?  Surely that must come as a surprise to many – this is a free country after all – or is it? When government has a law that allows the consumer to use a service only if it is through an insurance company… or a law that won’t let the provider of a service transact directly with their patient, then whatever is going on is something far removed from freedom – and most certainly isn’t a free market at work. Someone said that the passage of SB 101 was nothing more than common sense. It is shocking that that even has to be said.  Whatever group of protectionists is responsible for this restraint should be ashamed.

Another group who should be ashamed is anyone who takes action to allow or believes it is in any way justifiable to make a life-altering decision for a child by changing their gender. It really isn’t about the nature of the action as much as it is about the grave responsibility of raising a child. Mutalating a child should be considered reprehensible, even if it is just to pierce a baby’s ears or give them a tattoo. It is not only a violation of their body but of what should be that child’s right to decide what they want to do with their body.  To impose such a decision is cruel and totally indifferent about the future of that little human being. Such a decision should be that of a mature, self-responsible, fully- compehending adult. One would think that the role of any state legislator would be first and foremost to protect the child’s rights even when others fail to do so. But apparently some of them will also fail such a child.

Those opposed to the legislature striping local health officers and boards of much of their power claimed that doing so would risk placing politics over science. One can hardly disagree that politcs is indeed a very real possibility given this past year – and in fact most people— no matter where they stand on issues— would have to agree that the status quo was no deterrent to politics impacting decisions. In fact, it was hard to determine where science ended and politics began – and therein is the problem with government interceding in decisions that should be left up to the individual citizen. In a day and age where almost every scientist in the country is dependent upon government largess to fund research and their livelihoods, there can be no rational way not to believe at the very outset all science is a compromised field. And, when it becomes standard practice to censor communications, news, books and public discourse in order to silence one side or another, one can safely conclude that there is nothing but politics at play and every citizen should be afraid – very afraid. Unless you want to concede that you are property of the government, then there is only one solution to this dilemma – every citizen has to have access to ALL information and must be free to make decisions for themselves. No government intervention! –

Such a novel idea! – we should found a country based on that concept.

So how does a guy feel really good about being able to beat a girl? Try as hard as they might, a  transgender guy posing as a woman, still has all of nature’s  accouterments that generally make him stronger than a woman. This is not a matter of political whim, it’s a fact of nature. (To expect people to believe otherwise is actually rather insulting.) The real solution, if we are to accept without thought, that there should be no separation between a transgender man and women in competing athletics is to neutralize the whole purpose for having separate competitions at all.  If they are to compete as if they are the same then what is the point? What is really most perplexing about the whole debate is that we are all expected to hang our brains on a hook behind the door in analyzing the issue, and to cheer like idiots as though there is some great achievement when a man beats out a bunch of girls.

A program especially designed for the restaurant industry has been announced by the US Small Business Administration. The program was part of the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. It set aside $28.6 billion for a Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF)to be administered within the SBA.

Said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, “The restaurant industry has been among the hardest-hit sectors during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help bring jobs back and revive the industry… the SBA will administer the funds to the hardest-hit small restaurants.”  For the first 21 days priority will be given to applications from small businesses owned by women, veterans and disadvantaged individuals.

“With the launch of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, we’re prioritizing funding to the hardest-hit small businesses – irreplaceable gathering places in our neighborhoods and communities that need a lifeline now to get back on their feet,” said Guzman. “… we’re rolling out this program to make sure that these businesses can meet payroll, purchase supplies, and get what they need in place to transition to today’s … marketplace.”

Guzman emphasized, “We’re also focused on ensuring that the RRF program’s application process is streamlined and free of burdensome, bureaucratic hurdles – while still maintaining robust oversight. Under my leadership, the SBA aims to be as entrepreneurial as the entrepreneurs we serve – and that means meeting every small business where they are, and giving them the support they need to recover, rebuild and thrive.”

Governor Greg Gianforte has announced a settlement agreement that ends litigation between the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM).

“Under the previous administration, FWP didn’t do right by farmers, ranchers, and private property owners. In its effort to spread bison across parts of Montana, FWP didn’t do enough to account for the impacts to local communities and relied on outdated data,” Gov. Gianforte said. “This settlement agreement protects our livestock producers and rural lands and reaffirms the state can and should do better going forward.”

“FWP is committed to engaging communities and stakeholders on the impacts of decisions like this. We’re grateful to have this lawsuit behind us,” said Hank Worsech, director of FWP.

In January 2020, FWP issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Bison Conservation and Management in Montana (EIS) and an associated Record of Decision. In March 2020, UPOM filed suit against FWP alleging the agency violated MEPA, MAPA, and environmental impact review requirements during the EIS process.

In the settlement agreement, FWP and UPOM agree the Final EIS failed to adequately consider disease transmission between bison, livestock, and other wildlife, there was an inadequate public comment opportunity, and the Final EIS relied on outdated data, among other things.

“This is a huge win for property owners in Montana.  We’ve successfully blocked the introduction of free-roaming bison for at least the next decade,” said UPOM Policy Director Chuck Denowh.  “This is a major setback for the American Prairie Reserve and their plan to impose wild bison on their neighbors and on our public land.”

Through discovery related to the lawsuit, Denowh says that UPOM learned that FWP officials were in active negotiations with the American Prairie Reserve to establish a free-roaming bison herd in Central Montana.  Documents obtained by UPOM indicated urgency to strike a deal prior to the end of Governor Bullock’s term. “If we hadn’t sued FWP over this bison plan there’s little doubt we would have a herd of free-roaming bison in Central Montana today.” said Denowh.  “It’s chilling to think that FWP was engaging in secret negotiations with an out-of-state special interest group to impose free-roaming bison over the strong objections of local stakeholders.”

NorthWestern Energy has announced plans to build a $250 million, natural gas plant to generate 175 megawatts of electricity at Laurel. The project is part of a three- pronged strategy to add a total of 325 megawatts of capacity to address future electricity needs in Montana.

The company also plans to purchase energy from a 50 megawatt battery storage project; and will enter a power purchase agreement for 100 megawatts of predominantly hydroelectric resources. Finalization of the plans rests with the Montana Public Service Commission, which is expected to take about nine months.

—NorthWestern Energy’s Laurel Generating Station will be a new 175 megawatt, reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE units), natural gas plant.

For the 175 megawatt natural gas-fired RICE plant, Caterpillar Power Generation Systems, LLC, a subsidiary of Caterpillar, Inc. will supply the RICE units and Burns & McDonnell Engineering Company, Inc. was selected as the Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractor.

The Caterpillar RICE units are highly reliable and efficient with low emissions. The selected engines are capable of rapid ramping and multiple daily starts and stops. These units have the flexibility to provide power on-demand, baseload power, flexible capacity, and regulation services. These characteristics will facilitate the integration of existing and new intermittent renewable energy resources.

— Powerex Corp., a subsidiary of British Columbia-owned BC Hydro, has entered into a five-year power purchase agreement with NorthWestern Energy for 100 megawatts of capacity and energy products originating predominately from hydroelectric resources.  The Powerex Corp agreement, “… will provide our customers with capacity mainly from the BC Hydro system starting in Jan. 1, 2023” said NorthWestern Energy Director Long-Term Resources Bleau LaFave. “Our Montana customers require this capacity as soon as it is available. This market product can be delivered on our existing transmission assets.”

—Contract pending on an Energy Storage Project that will be a 50 megawatt battery storage system utilizing lithium-ion technology.

The 50 megawatt battery energy storage system, is expected to be available to serve NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers by the end of 2023. 

 “The energy storage project will provide the opportunity to store some excess energy from the grid to use when customer demand is high,” according to LaFave. “Today, NorthWestern Energy most frequently has excess energy on the grid from wind resources. Now we will have the opportunity to store a portion of that excess energy to improve matching the generation with customer demand and higher market pricing.”

“This selection of diverse projects will provide critically needed flexible capacity from a combination of thermal and renewable resources,” said NorthWestern Energy Vice President Supply and Montana Government Relations John Hines.  

NorthWestern Energy is still short of the capacity resources needed to produce energy reliably at the times when Montana customers require it the most, say officials.

The strategies to meet future energy needs is the result of a bidding process for proposals that they issued in January 2020.

In a press release the company said that the new contracts will fill the gap between what they anticipated as needed for future energy supplies and what is currently available. It will also help decrease risk associated with the ups and downs of the market, and potential lack of availability. Overall, it will increase reliability for Montana customers..

The additional capacity will address more than half of NorthWestern Energy’s deficit in its supply portfolio. The deficit is becoming, said the press release, more critical as some regional coal plants and other capacity resources are being shut down, compromising reliability during extreme weather conditions, including multi-day weather events, when energy demand is high.

NorthWestern Energy’s independent, third-party request for proposals evaluator, Aion Energy, received 180 proposals representing a wide variety of technologies from 21 bidders.

The selected resources provide diversity in ownership and technology, including owned and market-based resources and the largest battery-storage project within Montana.

“This resource portfolio addresses a key portion of our immediate need for generation capacity while also allowing us to make progress toward our goal of an energy supply portfolio in Montana that reduces the carbon intensity of our electric generation by 90% by 2045,” said NorthWestern Energy Chief Executive Officer Bob Rowe.

“The 2020 RFP process provided an opportunity to see what projects and technology are available,” said NorthWestern Energy President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Bird. “NorthWestern Energy’s new Laurel Generating Station will be able to provide on-demand capacity for long durations. With that asset added to our Montana portfolio, NorthWestern Energy can consider other, shorter duration capacity projects in future RFPs.”

“Developing a diverse portfolio of resources capable of producing the energy our Montana customers need any time they need it is the responsible path forward as we all work together toward an affordable, reliable and cleaner energy future,” said Rowe.

Montana’s unemployment rate declined in March to 3.8 percent, the state’s third consecutive month of lower unemployment rates. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.0 percent in March.

“For the third consecutive month this year, Montana has seen the benefits of a safe reopening as our unemployment rate continues its downward trend,” said Governor Greg Gianforte. “As we continue to reopen and get back to normal, too many of our businesses struggle to find workers, and I remain committed to getting more Montanans back into the workforce with good-paying jobs.”

Payroll employment posted strong growth of 4,000 jobs over the month, reflecting large gains in industries severely impacted by the pandemic. The Leisure and Hospitality sector added 1,300 jobs, while the Manufacturing, Education, and Health sectors each added 800 jobs. Montana’s total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers, grew by 1,210 jobs in March. The labor force grew by 439 workers in March, signaling a rebound from recent declines.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased by 0.6 percent in March, the largest one-month increase since August 2012. Prices for gasoline, which rose 9.1 percent in March, and natural gas were major contributors to the increase. Over the last 12 months the CPI-U has increased 2.6percent. The index for all items less food and energy, referred to as core inflation, increased 0.3 percent in March.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to operate six ports of entry in Montana and one in Idaho at reduced hours in order to limit the further spread of coronavirus. On April 22, 2021, these measures were extended for an additional 30 days.

Early Stage Montana, a nonprofit working to accelerate the growth of Montana technology start-up companies has hired Jenni Graff as its first executive director. Adam Gilbertson of Laurel and Dan Rausch of Sioux Falls, SD have joined the Board of Directors.

The Montana Science Center of Bozeman is celebrating 20 years. The center was founded in 2001 by city residents, who wanted to experiment with STEM learning opportunities for all ages. The center offers interactive exhibits, educational programs, weekly programs as well as summer camps.  

The Gallatin Association of Realtors will use a $4,500 Placemaking Grant from the National Association of Realtors to help with the development of a new half-mile trail within the Highland Glen Nature Preserve, which is a Bozeman Health property. GAR will provide a $450 grant match, and Realtor members will participate in the construction of a bridge on the trail. The new half-mile trail will provide a connection to the existing 4.5 miles of trails within the Highland Glen Nature Preserve. A number of organizations are providing funding for the $47,000 project, including the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Bozeman Health, the City of Bozeman, the Gianforte Family Foundation, Sanderson Stewart, AMB West Philanthropies, Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and the One Valley Community Foundation. 

Gallatin County’s residential real estate saw strong sales, increased prices and high demand for homes in March. The average number of days homes spent on the market was half of what it was in March 2020. Median sale prices jumped 45.3%, and on average sellers received more than their asking price for single family homes. The number of new listings decreased 10.5% in March compared to last year, from 172 to 154. Pending sales were up 41.1%, going from 107 to 151. The number of closed sales decreased 14.3%, from 119 to 102. The average days on market decreased 52.9%, from 85 to 40. The median sales price increased 45.3% from $485,000 to $704,750. Sellers received 100.4% of their list price, up from 99.1% last March. The inventory of available homes dropped 69.8%, from 414 to 125, while the months’ supply of inventory fell 75%, from 3.2 to 0.8.  

After 38-years in business, the Women’s Club of Missoula has decided to shut their doors. The Women’s Club isn’t the only business shutting its doors in Missoula. At Southgate Mall two corner stores have closed, JC Penney and Lucky’s Market and The Green Light.

Also in Missoula, construction continues on an old department store as crews work to transform the space into a Scheel’s in time for its October grand opening. And in other positive news the Pink Elephant is now open.

The Bozeman Health Cottonwood Clinic and Surgery Center has opened. The new space has family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. CEO John Hill said they hand-picked the team to be a part of this clinic. Over the next six to nine months radiology surgery, ambulatory surgery, and a gastrointestinal clinic will open at this location too. 

Samar International Food Market has opened in Missoula. The business offers a wide variety of spices and specialty foods. It is located in Paxson Plaza.

Medellee Antonioli is the new owner of Books & Books at 206 W Park St, Butte. Current plans call for a move and expansion at 43 E. Broadway St by the end of summer.

Mountain Berry Bowls has opened at 2200 N. Last Chance Gulch, Helena. The food truck is open  Wednesdays – Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They feature combinations of fruit, toppings, and more. All bowls are gluten and dairy free.

Casey and Ann Brooks  are the new owners of RB Drive-In at 932 Helena Ave. in Helena. 1948. The menus has been updated but the original favorites have been retained. You can check them out on Facebook.

HomeBase Partners, has begun the planning stages for a development on four blocks between Villard and Lamme streets  Tracy and Grand Street. new buildings will hold a combination of residential and business spaces. The area is now home to a building with medical offices, houses, other office buildings and parking lots.