By Casey Harper, The Center Square

Americans think the U.S. economy is in trouble, according to a new poll.

Released by CBS News and YouGov, the poll found that 64% of those surveyed said the national economy is doing “fairly bad” or “very bad.”

The survey found 56% disapprove of the job Joe Biden is doing as president. Those two figures are likely intertwined. Inflation has soared since Biden took office. Gas prices hit record highs last summer and are expected to rise again this year. Food prices have soared as well and show little sign of returning to their previous level.

Notably, 49% of those surveyed say they feel “scared” about the fate of the U.S. in the next year.

The poll also found 65% of Americans said things in the U.S. are going “very badly” or “somewhat badly.” That pessimism is similar to the sentiment found in a recent Gallup poll that found that that about 80% of those surveyed expect a higher deficit, higher taxes, and a worse economy in 2023.

“More than six in 10 think prices will rise at a high rate and the stock market will fall in the year ahead, both of which happened in 2022,” Gallup reports. “In addition, just over half of Americans predict that unemployment will increase in 2023, an economic problem the U.S. was spared in 2022.”

But it’s not just the economy. Americans are also worried about crime with Gallup reporting that 72% of surveyed Americans predict crime rates will increase, not decrease, this year.

From Northern Ag Network

The massive spending bill negotiated for Congress to pass before adjourning includes language allowing USDA to establish rules and verification protocols for agricultural carbon market programs.

The bill also funds $3.74 billion for agricultural disasters in 2022.

The $1.7 trillion “omnibus” spending bill, however, does not include any immigration reform for agricultural workers under H-2A, despite an impassioned plea on the Senate floor Monday night by the lead champion in the Senate, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

The spending bill would fund the federal government through the end of next September. Lawmakers passed the bill before the end of the session to avoid a government shutdown.

Among the agricultural provisions, the bill funds $3.74 billion for farmer disaster losses in 2022, including losses for crops, dairy products and on-farm stored commodities, as well as crops prevented from planting in 2022. Up to $494.5 million of the funds are set aside for livestock producer losses as well.

The disaster aid covers losses from a range of natural disasters, including drought, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, tornadoes, winter storms, freeze, including polar vortex, smoke exposure and excessive moisture.


Also included in the language is the Senate-passed Growing Climate Solutions Act, setting guidelines for USDA to create a new program, form an advisory committee, set up technical advisers for farmers and create a list of carbon credit or environmental credit programs that meet USDA protocols.

The program would create guidelines allowing farmers and ranchers to prevent, reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions including land or soil carbon sequestration.

The U.S. Senate had passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act in a 92-8 vote in summer 2021, but the House Agriculture Committee never moved to advance the bill for a full House vote.

Under the bill, USDA and EPA will assess agricultural emissions and the number of companies or private groups that are involved in the generation or sale of agricultural or forestry environmental credit markets. USDA and EPA will estimate the market demand over the last four years and the total number of credits generated. The study will also look at the global marketplace and examine barriers to entry as well as the need to measure and quantify long-term carbon sequestration in the soils and other activities that can “prevent, reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural and forestry sectors.”

USDA will then determine whether to create a voluntary program to register companies and other groups to carry out a program for farmers, ranchers and private landowners who want to participate in voluntary environmental credit markets. The goal is to increase the ability of farmers, ranchers and private landowners to ensure they receive a fair distribution of revenues and also understand the basic structure and qualifications for different environmental credit programs.

The bill language defines “agriculture or forestry credit” as a credit that prevents, reduces or mitigates greenhouse gases, including through the sequestration of carbon, as a result of agricultural or forestry activity.

If USDA opts to move ahead with a program — which is highly likely — USDA will create a “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance and Third-Party Verifier Program,” to register carbon credit programs.

Once that happens, USDA will examine protocols, including calculations, sampling methodologies, voluntary environment credit accounting principles, systems for verification, methods to account for “additionality, permanence, leakage, and where appropriate, avoid double counting,”

The rules under the bill include an array of agricultural strategies to reduce emissions and sequester carbon in the soil, including adjusting fuel choices or reducing fuel use in operations.

For livestock emission reductions, that could include lowering or preventing emissions by adjusting feed, feed additives, and the use of byproducts as feed sources, “as well as manure management practices, on-farm energy generation, energy feedstock production.” Other provisions include grassland management through prescribed grazing as well.

The program encourages lowering fertilizer emissions and reducing emissions from nutrient use.

It would also encourage reforestation, forest management, including improving harvest practices and thinning diseased trees, preventing the conversion of forests, grasslands, and wetlands. Other aspects that could qualify include restoring wetlands or grasslands.

Also included are current farm practices tied to USDA’s conservation programs. Earlier this year, the Inflation Reduction Act provided $19.5 billion for conservation programs specifically tied to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon.

USDA also now has $3.1 billion in outstanding grants for more than 140 different pilot projects around the country meant to find ways to reduce agricultural emissions under the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities.

Within a year, USDA would be required to create a website with a registration list for carbon credit programs, including the regions where they provide services, and whether the carbon credit program provides technical assistance to producers or verifies protocols.

USDA would then oversee the integrity of companies or carbon registries that are involved in USDA’s program. A carbon or emission-reduction registry can be removed for failing to maintain standards. The program will also have a way to submit information for fraudulent claims.

Businesses, non-profits and government agencies may provide technical assistance for land-management practices that prevent, reduce or mitigate greenhouse emissions. A third-party verifier confirmed the practices or protocols for voluntary carbon-credit markets.

Also included in the funding bill is the “SUSTAINS” Act, or Sustainability Targets in Agriculture to Incentivize Natural Solutions Act, by Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. That bill expands USDA’s authority to allow non-federal funds for certain conservation programs that address climate change, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat improvement and protection of drinking water sources.

The bill language for a carbon program drew immediate praise from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

“I applaud the inclusion of both the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act in the omnibus appropriations bill under consideration by Congress,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of NCFC.

Conner thanked Thompson as well as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for getting these bills included in this end-of-year package.

“This action affirms Congress’s support for programs and projects to promote climate-smart agricultural practices that are voluntary, science-based, and incentive-focused,” Conner said.


Still, the funding bill will not take up any agricultural immigration reforms pushed by NCFC and nearly 250 farm groups that had backed the effort to change the H-2A guest worker program, and potentially legalize hundreds of thousands of farmer workers now in the country illegally.

Bennet, on the Senate floor recently, stressed his bill would save farmers $23 billion in labor costs over the next decade and ensure there are enough workers to meet the demands of the food system.

“We should accept rising food prices for families just because this Congress can’t reform an antiquated H-2A program,” Bennet said.


Rice producers would receive a one-time payment with funding of $250 million following higher fertilizer prices and lack of boost in commodity prices that affected rice growers more than other commodities. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, cited a study showing two-thirds of rice farmers would lose money with their 2022 crops.

The bill also includes up to $100 million for USDA to make payments to cotton merchandisers that faced financial losses because of supply chain problems during the pandemic.

Following complaints about the lack of staff at local Farm Service Agency offices, the bill provides $15 million to hire new employees, yet up to 50% of the funding can be tied to technology to deliver farm programs as well.

The Rural Electric Program would receive $4.3 billion guaranteed underwriting loans, of which up to $2 billion will be used for upgrading fossil-fuel electric power plans that utilize carbon subsurface utilization and storage systems.

Rural broadband programs would receive $455 million, including $348 million for the ReConnect program through USDA.

For farm ownership loans, USDA receives authority for up to $3.5 billion in guaranteed farm ownership loans and $3.1 billion in direct farm ownership loans.

FSA would have another $2.19 billion in guaranteed operating loans as well as $1.64 billion in direct operating loans.

USDA also would have authority for up to $4 billion in emergency loans.

For food aid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive $153 billion, a record funding level for the program. The bill bumps up benefit levels for recipients.


Boozman highlighted the bill also reauthorized the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) at EPA and increased the registration and maintenance feeds “to support a more predictable regulatory process,” and create additional improvements in the program.

The bill also extends the deadline for EPA to complete registration review decisions for all pesticide products registered as of Oct. 1, 2007. Boozman noted “EPA is facing a significant backlog of pesticide registrations due to a variety of factors over the past several years, which raises potential implications for continued access to numerous crop protection tools. The agency will be allowed to continue its registration review work through Oct. 1, 2026, as a result of this extension.”

Boozman noted the bill also will extend the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) for packers through Sept. 30, 2023.

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Montana’s population grew 1.5% in 2022, according to new annual state population estimates released by the U.S. Census.

That’s a net increase of 16,640 from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. Montana’s total population is now an estimated 1,122,867, up from 1,106,227 in 2021, and 1,084,197 in 2020. 

Montana ranked among the top 10 states for percentage growth behind Florida (1.9%), Idaho (1.8%), South Carolina (1.7%), Texas (1.6%), and South Dakota (1.5%). 

“Eighteen states experienced a population decline in 2022, compared to 15 and D.C. the prior year,” said the Census Bureau. “California, with a population of 39,029,342, and Illinois, with a population of 12,582,032, also had six-figure decreases in resident population.” 

In 2023, the bureau plans to release 2022 population estimates for counties, cities, and towns. Information on demographics such as age, race, and sex are also expected.

A new lift opened last week on Whitefish Mountain. Until the new lift, Chair 6 was the only way to get from the lodge to Chairs 1 and 2, the major lifts up the resort’s front-side. The Snow Ghost Express, officially known as Chair 4 whisks skiers up Inspiration Ridge. With chairs are wide enough to hold six skiers at a time, the resort estimates that the new lift will be able to serve over 2,000 skiers per hour.

Tax revenue from wine is forecast to be flat in  Montana the next couple of years, and per capita beer consumption is on the same path, Revenue from taxes on booze is projected to go up slightly, and income from taxes on tobacco products will be down overall. As expected, marijuana is forecasted to make a large contribution to state budget.Tax revenue from cannabis is projected to hit $50.7 million in the 2024 and $57.5 million in 2025.

The total number of teaching licenses issued in Montana has decreased by 9% in the last five years, according to the Office of Public Instruction. In that time, the amount of new licenses issued decreased by 21% and the number of educators who have maintained their licenses shrunk by about 7%. Emergency authorizations, which allow people who are not currently qualified educators to fill vacant positions, grew by 42% from 2018 and peaked with 173 emergency licenses in 2021.

The Golden Yolk Griddle, a burrito and sandwich shop in downtown Missoula has announced. it’s starting a late-night breakfast service from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

J.W. Heist Steakhouse, at 27 E. Main St., opened Jan. 3, and will be open for dinners only. Owners Michael Ochsner and Brett Evje have wanted to open a steakhouse in downtown Bozeman since 2009. The business partners, who also co-own Plonk, have wanted to fill a gap left by their favorite fine-dining restaurant Boodles since it was destroyed in a natural gas explosion in 2009. The pair instead opened Plonk in 2009.

Former legislator Brad Tschida will take the executive director position at the Montana Public Service Commission starting Jan. 17, 2023. The agency announced  that Tschida, a Republican from Missoula and “lifelong Montana resident,” accepted its offer. The Public Service Commission is made up of five elected commissioners from five districts in Montana, currently all Republicans, who oversee regulated utilities.

Rick Weaver, the longtime regional publisher at Hagadone Media Montana, will retire at the end of January. In his role, Weaver oversees eight newspapers serving Northwest Montana, including the flagship Daily Inter Lake, as well as the Hungry Horse News, Whitefish Pilot, The Western News, Bigfork Eagle, Lake County Leader, Clark Fork Valley Press and Mineral Independent. In announcing Weaver’s retirement, Hagadone Corporation President Brad Hagadone named Regional Advertising Director Anton Kaufer as the newspaper group’s next regional publisher.

As of Jan. 22, the Butte Civic Center will be back to hosting numerous sporting events,. The facility is back in business until filming begins on the second season of Taylor Sheridan’s “1923” in June.

The Clark Fork Face Forest Health and Fuels Reduction, a proposal to conduct logging, forest thinning and prescribed burning on 19,147 acres of public land scattered from Clinton to Drummond has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups who say it overstates wildfire risk at the expense of wildlife protection. The BLM Missoula Field Office began planning the Clark Fork Face Forest Health and Fuels Reduction project about two years ago. Work would occur in phases over the next 10–15 years. The agency says the project is aimed at improving forest conditions to be more fire resilient.

Permit applications to float central Montana’s Smith River are now being accepted, and will be accepted through Feb. 15. The permit drawing will be held on Feb. 21. Known for its “spectacular scenery, remote location and excellent trout fishing,” the Smith River is one of Montana’s most sought-after outdoor recreation experiences. Because of its popularity, permits are required to float the 59-mile section of the Smith River between Camp Baker near White Sulphur Springs and the Eden Bridge south of Ulm. The permits are issued each year through a lottery. Parties of up to 15 people can float with one permit. Applications must be submitted, or postmarked by Feb 15. Applicants pay a $15 non-refundable permit application fee. Permit lottery results will be available online at

Montana’s minimum wage has increased 75 cents an hour to $9.95 starting on Jan. 1. It’s the largest inflationary increase since voters passed a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage by $1 an hour to $6.15 in January 2007 and then make inflationary changes each year. An estimated 23,500 Montana workers, or 5% of the workforce, received hourly wages less than $9.95 in 2022 and are likely to receive higher wages due to the 2023 minimum wage increase. 

The Wax Museum, a new and used record store, to downtown Bozeman. Owner Kels Koch is hoping the new retail space, at 533 E. Mendenhall St., will increase the foot traffic. The store  opened to customers on Jan. 7.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce announced the creation of the North Dakota Energy and Economic Coordination Office (EECO). The EECO will serve as a unified avenue for industry experts to effectively coordinate with North Dakota energy entities to advance the state’s energy strategy by supporting North Dakota’s full energy portfolio.

Montana state employees donated over 2,500 pounds of food to the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) in Gov. Gianforte’s second annual interagency food drive competition. The Department of Public Health and Human Services won  this year’s agency food drive competition.”

The OZ Bozeman will be opening in Bozeman at 2952 Technology Blvd. The OZ is a new, fully furnished private office and co-working location. It is an option for team expansions, start-ups, health and medical practices, conferences, events, etc. The facility is a modern three –story building with a number of different kinds of office space available. The organization offers a variety of memberships that enables a client to choose what best fits their personal/team needs.

The agriculture industry in North Dakota contributes $30.8 billion to the state’s economy, with $18.8 billion from direct output and $12 billion from secondary output, according to a study at North Dakota State University. Direct effects represent the first round of payments, services, labor, and materials or sales, while secondary effects represent economic activity created through purchased goods and services by businesses and households.

Fez, a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd trained and owned by Lexie Coniglione from Glasgow, was named runner-up/western region in the 2023 Farm Dog of the Year Contest. The contest celebrates farm dogs that work alongside farmers and ranchers as they sustainably produce nutritious food for families and their pets across America. Rounding up livestock and chasing off predators are among the many tasks performed by farm dogs.

Montana Farm Bureau has captured the prestigious Pinnacle Award, the highest honor a state Farm Bureau can be awarded for program and membership achievement. MFBF President Cyndi Johnson received the award during the American Farm Bureau Federation 104th Annual Convention.

As of December 19, median sales of single family house prices in Gallatin County were up 4.6% compared to last November, from $735,000 to $768,713. The number of closed sales fell 50.4%, from 141 to 70. The median number of days homes spent on the market increased 358.3%, from 12 days to 55 days. The average percent of list price received decreased 1.4%, from 98.8% to 97.4%. The median price per square foot of homes sold during November increased 6.6% compared to last November, from $333 to $355. Pending sales fell 37.9%, from 95 to 59. The number of new listings decreased 19.5%, from 82 to 66. The end-of-month inventory jumped 132.4% from 139 to 323.

The Western Dakota Energy Association released a report recently that shows the impact of oil and gas taxes on state finances in North Dakota. Some of the highlights include: oil extraction and production tax revenues are over $26 billion for fiscal years 2008-2022; in the past 5 fiscal years, oil extraction and production taxes are approximately 51% of all taxes collected by the state; since 2008, oil and gas tax revenue has provided over $1.4 billion for water projects, $1.8 billion for education, and $5.9 billion in funding for communities and infrastructure across the state. Oil and gas taxes also deposited $6.9 billion into the Legacy Fund.

Amazon is currently building a facility in Missoula, the first Amazon facility in Montana. A 72,000 sq. ft. delivery center at 9121 Cartage Road which is the “last mile” step of the shipping process, takes orders from throughout the US and sendit to customers. It will bring in more than 100 new jobs to Montana.

After 48 years of business, Bert & Ernies restaurant in Helena turned off its lights on Dec. 1. Owned by Toby DeWolf, Bert and Ernie’s was a business anchor for downtown Helena. The building is being converted into a meat store.  The DeWolf family were butchers in Helena from 1889 to 1989. Four Montana ranch families organized as Old Salt Co-op are working toward purchasing the 12,000-square-foot building, with the plan to develop a retail meat market, café and restaurant called Butcher’s Table. The co-op includes the Sieben Livestock Company outside Cascade, the Mannix Family Ranch near Helmville, the J Bar L Ranches in Centennial Valley and Melville, and the LF Ranch near Augusta. The co-op also plans to build a USDA-inspected slaughter facility on a prospective site between East Helena and Montana City by May.

Fit Republic closed its’ Great Falls location on December 31. The organization says existing memberships will be transferred to the local Planet Fitness gym.

Christy Sports, a winter & outdoor specialty retail and rental operator, announced the acquisition of Grizzly Outfitters, a specialty outdoor retail and rental operator, at Big Sky.The shop offers rental and demo equipment along with a full retail shop. This new store is the second location for Christy Sports in Montana, according to Gary Montes de Oca, Chief Development and Strategy Officer at Christy Sports. Ken Lancey and Andrew Schreiner are former owners of Grizzly Outfitters.

The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to lease nearly 21,000 acres of national public land in Montana and North Dakota to oil and gas companies. The announcements come as the Interior Department falls further behind in its obligation to write rules implementing the new leasing system created by the Inflation Reduction Act. The Biden administration’s Fall 2022 regulatory agenda, belatedly released this week by the Office of Management and Budget, revealed that rules updating the oil and gas leasing system are only at the Proposed Rule Stage. If the department doesn’t publish a draft rule within the next few weeks, any final rule will likely be published so late that it’s at risk of getting thrown out in 2025 under the Congressional Review Act.

For December 2022 the average price of a house sold in Billings was $365,000. There were 145 properties sold (closed) and sellers received 97.9 percent of asking price. Multiple List listed 142 properties and the average number of days on the market was 27.

“The pandemic has changed Montana: more people, different people, more expensive housing. In economics jargon, demand for Montana increased,” proclaims the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, (BBER), in explaining the issues that will be discussed at the 2023 Montana Economic Seminar in Billings on January 31.  Director of the BBER, located at the University of Montana, Dr. Patrick Barkey, says that the forces driving this change are likely to persist.  “As such, Montanans must grapple with our response — particularly, how much to increase supply to meet demand.”

The way Montanans act to increase supply affects how increased demand manifests itself in Montana. Neither more people nor higher prices are strictly good or bad. Each option comes with different tradeoffs.

The half-day seminar will be held in eight other Montana cities. In Billings it will be held at the Northern Hotel, 8 am to 1 pm. Registration is required at the BBER website.

Bryce Ward, founder of ABMJ Consulting, a firm that provides economic analysis, strategic advice, conflict resolution, etc., will be a speaker at the event. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and BAs in economics and history from the University of Oregon. He has expertise in urban and regional economics, labor economics, health economics, public finance, social economics, real estate economics, environmental and natural resource economics, and statistics/econometrics.

A report was quietly released from the Department of Energy (DOE) in the last days of 2022 with no comment from the White House, about the economic impacts of cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline. If the pipeline had been allowed to go forward it would have been completed this year.

A report from Fox News, recognized Sen. Steve Daines for having forced the release of the report that was supposed to have been made public over a year ago, which analyzed what would have been the positive impacts of the pipeline if President Biden hadn’t revoked its federal permits in the first days of becoming president.

The DOJ report says the Keystone XL project would have created between 16,149 and 59,000 jobs and would have had a positive economic impact of between $3.4 billion and $9.6 billion. A previous report from the federal government published in 2014 determined 3,900 direct jobs and 21,050 total jobs would be created during construction which was expected to take two years.

“The Biden administration finally owned up to what we have known all along — killing the Keystone XL Pipeline cost good-paying jobs, hurt Montana’s economy and was the first step in the Biden administration’s war on oil and gas production in the United States,” Sen. Daines. R-Mont., said. “Unfortunately, the administration continues to pursue energy production anywhere but the United States.” 

“These policies may appeal to the woke left but hurt Montana’s working families,” he continued. “I’ll keep fighting back against Biden’s anti-energy agenda and supporting Montana energy projects and jobs.”

The DOE was forced to issue the report after Daines and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, successfully inserted a bill mandating the report into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Biden signed into law in November 2021. The agency was required to publish the report within 90 days of the bill’s passage but ultimately waited more than a year before releasing it.

In its release last week, the DOE did mention that the project would have had minimal permanent job impacts, but they failed to address the thousands of jobs that would have happened during its construction. Long term permanent jobs would have been about 50.

(Also unaddressed was a projected $80 million-plus of property tax revenue that would have been paid to Montana, of which $65 million would have gone to the counties through which it passed.)

Biden’s decision to cancel the pipeline has received widespread criticism from Republican lawmakers and energy industry representatives who have argued it would have helped keep gas prices down and ensure energy security. 

Keystone XL had been slated to be completed early this year and transport an additional 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the U.S. through an existing pipeline network, according to its operator, TC Energy.

The project labor agreement that TC Energy signed in August 2020 with four labor unions promised the pipeline would create 42,000 American jobs and provide $2 billion in total wages.

TC Energy ultimately gave up on the project in June 2021 as a result of Biden’s decision. Last year, a federal judge tossed a legal challenge from nearly two dozen states asking the court to reinstate the pipeline’s permits.

In July 2021 TC Energy, the Canadian company that owns the Keystone Pipeline System, filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the Biden administration in compensation for damages that it has suffered as a result of the U.S. Government’s breach of its NAFTA obligations. They claim that the US administration violated the North American Free Trade Agreement with its decision to kill the $9-billion project.

Early this month, Governor Greg Gianforte spotlighted his pro-family, pro-business tax relief agenda in a press conference at the State Capitol.

“All of our tax proposals are rooted in a simple philosophy: hardworking Montanans should keep more of what they earn,” Governor Gianforte said. “We’re ready to give Montanans $1 billion in tax relief, and we look forward to working with the legislature to do it. Now, it’s time to get to work and get it done.”

During the press conference, the governor highlighted elements of his Budget for Montana Families, which provides Montanans with $1 billion in property and income tax relief, the largest tax cut in Montana history.

“Hardworking Montanans need tax relief now and without delay,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Our budget is built for them – hardworking Montanans who make our state stronger and enrich our communities. Our budget is for the farmers and ranchers, teachers and law enforcement, small business owners, seniors, and all our hardworking people – those who make Montana the Last Best Place.”

The governor’s budget provides $500 million in property tax relief for Montanans for their primary residence, with a $1,000 property tax rebate in both 2023 and 2024.

“We can make a difference for the retired couple in the Flathead who, because they can’t afford their rising property taxes, are thinking about selling the home they raised their kids in,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Let’s provide them with $2,000 in property tax relief over the next two years.”

Recognizing the overwhelming bulk of property taxes go to local government, the governor has also called for property tax reforms, including greater transparency and accountability in local government spending, an option to pay property taxes monthly, and greater fiscal responsibility from local governments.

To make Montana more competitive and help Montanans keep more of what they earn, the governor’s budget reduces the income tax rate most Montanans pay from 6.5% to 5.9% and substantially increases the state’s earned income tax credit. When the governor took office in 2021, the top income tax rate was 6.9%.

To support hardworking families, the governor’s budget also provides families with a $1,200 child tax credit for children under six years of age, as well as a $5,000 adoption tax credit to make it easier for Montanans to open their homes to children.

“Family is the foundation of our society. We should do everything we can to make families stronger,” the governor continued. “Let’s provide families with a $1,200 child tax credit to help them raise their kids and pay for food, clothes, child care and health care.”

The governor’s budget cuts taxes for Montana’s small business owners, family farmers, and family ranchers by expanding the business equipment tax exemption from $300,000 to $1 million. Taken with similar reforms from 2021, the measure eliminates the business equipment tax burden for more than 5,000 small businesses, farms, and ranches.

“Our proposed tax relief will support small business owners as well as family farmers and ranchers,” the governor said. “They are the backbone of our economy, create jobs and opportunity for Montanans in every corner of the state, and make our families and communities stronger. Let’s provide them with tax relief by further reforming the business equipment tax.”

Under Governor Gianforte’s leadership, more Montanans are working than ever before and Montanans created a record number of new businesses in 2022, which follows a year of record-breaking business creation in the governor’s first year in office.

Big Sky Economic Development has announced that two new members have joined the board of the Economic Development Authority Board of Directors and the Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. The EDA and EDC boards meet together to set policy and economic development strategy for the community.

Joining the EDA Board of Directors is Kate Vogel with North 40 Ag. The EDA board is a quasi-public, TradePort authority, whose board members are appointed by the Yellowstone County Commissioners. The EDA has 11 appointed board members.

Vogel grew up in eastern Colorado helping with the neighbors’ cattle, this is where her fondness for agriculture was first discovered. She studied dryland, no-till systems at Colorado State University and after completing her Masters, she moved up to Montana. Kate joined her husband Marcus in 2014 at North 40 Ag in as a way to bring seed and education to their community.

“As we developed the mission of North 40 Ag, I kept coming back to the importance of people. We have grown our family here since the start,” said Kate. “Our employees have become part of our family, but so have our customers. My favorite part of what I do is getting to build relationships with our clients and seeing the improvement they can make on their operation in their journey to meet their soil health goals.”

North 40 Ag has provided Vogel with the outlet to continue to assist the regions farmers and ranchers in implementing cover crops, no-till practices, crop rotations and other soil health practices. It is her passion for farmers and ranchers that keeps her pushing North 40 Ag forward.

The newest board member joining the Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors is Tyler Wiltgen, Executive Director, St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation. The EDC is a not-for-profit corporation made up of 140-Member Investor companies. The EDC has 22 board members elected who are elected by the Member Investor companies.

Wiltgen started his role as Executive Director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in July 2021 and serves as a member of the St. Vincent Healthcare Senior Leadership Team. Before joining the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, Tyler served as Vice President of Advancement for Rocky Mountain College. His prior experience includes development positions in the College of Agriculture, Athletics and Gift Planning at the Montana State University Alumni Foundation in Bozeman. Tyler was also the radio voice of Montana State University Bobcat Football and Men’s Basketball. A native of Wilsall, Montana, Tyler graduated from Montana State University-Bozeman, where he received both his undergraduate and master’s degrees. He and his wife, Malaree, live in Billings with their three children.

The City of Billings has named Jeff Roach, A.A.E., as its next director of Aviation and Transit. He will fill the position following the retirement of Kevin Ploehn after 33 years of employment with the City. Ploehn’s last day is Jan. 13.

Roach comes to Billings from Nashville, TN, and is scheduled to begin his new role on Jan. 16, 2023. Roach will plan, direct, and manage the City of Billings MET Transit System, and the Billings Logan International Airport (BIL).

He brings more than 30 years of experience in transportation, aviation, and airport management to Billings.

Most recently, Roach was Assistant Vice President, Executive Director for John C. Tune Airport, the general aviation reliever airport in Nashville, TN.

Roach is no stranger to the cold climate, as he was previously the Airport Manager for Fairbanks International Airport. He has also worked for the State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities as Transportation Planning Manager.

Finding someone with management experience in both aviation and transit was no easy task. The City called on ADK Consulting and Executive Search to find top tier candidates for this unique job title.  Roach earned his bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Alaska and went on to receive his master’s degree in Management from Webster University.  He also received a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the United States Air Force Air University. Roach is an Accredited Member (A.A.E.) of the American Association of Airport Executives, and has a commercial, instrument helicopter pilot license. In addition, Mr. Roach served in the Alaska Army National Guard.

By Dan Brooks


The Billings Chamber supports the Governor’s proposals to increase the Business Equipment Tax exemption and decrease the top marginal income tax rate. Both will provide significant benefits to our businesses.

In Yellowstone County, there are 502 entities with business equipment tax liability in tax year 2022. Raising the exemption threshold to $1 million would fully exempt 273 entities, reduce liabilities for the remaining 229, and provide a total savings of $1.293 MILLION to businesses in Yellowstone County. Local government and school district revenues will be backfilled through adjustments to Entitlement Share and Guaranteed Tax Base funding mechanisms.

 The Billings Chamber’s membership primarily consists of small businesses (about 90%), many of which will file as pass-through entities. Lowering the top marginal income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%, as the Governor is proposing, will provide tax savings to many small businesses, allowing them to reinvest in their businesses. The decrease also makes Montana more competitive as we currently have the highest top marginal income tax rate among our neighboring states.


The Billings Chamber remains incredibly grateful to Billings voters for passing the 2021 Public Safety Mill Levy (PSML), adding resources to our police department, fire department, and other public safety needs. The PSML constituted a significant improvement among a constellation of complex public safety factors that need addressed. Fortunately, we have a legislative delegation working to fix some of those issues.

 Currently the state pays less than the actual cost of housing state inmates at local detention facilities. Which means Yellowstone County taxpayers are effectively subsidizing state inmates. One of our local legislators, Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe (R) HD 43, has a bill draft (HB 174) to deal with that.  

Billings has over 30 sober living homes, the most in the state. While many operate in good faith, intending to keep folks sober and get them back on track, the lack of oversight and regulation have led to bad behaviors by a few landlords, leaving people who need help out of luck, and neighborhoods concerned about unwanted activities on their streets. Another local legislator, Sen. Barry Usher (R) SD 20, is sponsoring a bill (SB 94) to provide oversight to sober living homes.


When we hear from businesses about the challenge of finding workforce, it often stems from a difficulty of new employees finding housing; not only is it too expensive, we simply don’t have enough. This isn’t just a Bozeman and Missoula problem. A recently updated housing study estimates that four of Billings’s top five occupations—about 36,000 people—don’t make enough to afford a median priced home. So what’s causing much of this problem? Local government regulations.

 A recent study by the National Association of Homebuilders indicates almost $100,000 of new home costs (23.8%) are due to government regulation, largely at the local level.

 A Pew Research analysis, presented to Montana lawmakers in 2021, sums up the research consensus on housing, “Strict zoning regulations increase costs, reduce growth.” 

What’s the solution to affordable housing? A CATO Institute study offers the answer, “policymakers can tackle housing affordability problems at the state and local levels by overhauling zoning and land-use rules. They can cap or reduce local regulation, fast-track approval processes, and compensate property owners for regulatory takings. Additional federal aid is not the answer, and it may even undermine incentives for local governments to make needed reforms.”

 The Billings Chamber will be supporting pro-housing legislation that helps address our housing challenges. 

While we are very optimistic about changes that will benefit our members, we are concerned about some proposals with significant consequences.


Concerns in western Montana about tourist overcrowding have resulted in suggestions to reduce or even eliminate tourism promotion and marketing funding. “Time to stop promoting Montana,” read a ridiculous recent headline. Dax Schieffer (Voices of MT Tourism) provides an excellent response, noting that tourism provides Montana with 50,000 jobs.

 We already know what happens when you turn off the tourism marketing tap because Colorado did it in 1993. An analysis on the impact found, “As a result, Colorado’s domestic market share plunged 30% within two years, representing a loss of over $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually. Over time, the revenue loss increased to well over $2 billion yearly.” It wasn’t until 2015, over two decades later, that Colorado regained the market share it had lost.

 Our local tourism organizations, Visit Billings, and Visit Southeast Montana, work tirelessly to attract each tourist we can bring to eastern Montana. Western Montanans may be jaded about tourists, but we recognize the benefit to our rural businesses when a few extra patrons each week is significant.

 The Billings Chamber will work to defend tourism funding that benefits Montana’s small businesses.