The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $11,390,000 to the state of Montana from the federal governments  Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). The funding  is meant to support Montana communities in upgrading essential water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure that protects public health and treasured water bodies. Nearly half of this funding will be available as grants or principal forgiveness loans helping underserved communities across America invest in water infrastructure, while creating good-paying jobs. 

The funding builds on previous funding provided for Montana communities for water and wastewater treatment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including $8.7 million for the CWSRF.  Projects already planned include places like Fort Smith, Montana, where Bipartisan Infrastructure Funds are contributing to a $7.5 million Wastewater System Improvement Project, including new collection systems, a central facultative lagoon away from the Bighorn River, and spray irrigation disposal.  These improvements are vital to a functioning sewage system for nearby communities, as well as the blue-ribbon, trout fishing industry on the Bighorn River.   

The Infrastructure Law makes over $50 billion available for water and waste water infrastruc -ture improvements across the country between FY2022 and FY2026.

Chicago recorded 697 total homicides in 2022, far more than any other city in the United States, but New Orleans had the highest murder rate per capita, according to a new report from a nonprofit research group. 

Chicago had more total homicides in 2022 than Philadelphia (516), New York City (438), Houston (435) and Los Angeles (382), which rounded out the top five, according to a report from Wirepoints, an Illinois-based research and news organization that surveyed 2022 crime data from 75 of the largest U.S. cities.

New Orleans had the highest homicide rate in the nation in 2022 with 74.3 homicides per 100,000 people. It was followed by St. Louis (68.2), Baltimore (58.1), Detroit (48.9) and Memphis (45.9), Wirepoints found.

The nation’s lowest homicide rates were concentrated in the West, according to the report. The cities with the fewest homicides out of the 75 surveyed were Plano, Texas, and Gilbert, Arizona. Plano reported 1 homicide and Gilbert reported 3. 

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Montana may see a big increase in hotel-generated state and local tax revenue this year.

A report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association projects the state will see $145.3 million in tax revenue this year, a nearly 34% increase from 2019 when tax revenue was $108.7 million.  

AHLA, which is the largest hotel trade group in the U.S., said 2020’s nationwide drop in travel due to COVID-19 led to a loss of just over $13 billion in state and local revenue.

“Hotels are integral contributors to communities across the country, generating tens of billions of dollars in state and local tax revenue,” AHLA said in a press release. 

AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers said hotels are now “making significant strides toward recovery, supporting millions of good-paying jobs and generating billions” in state and local tax revenue nationwide. 

“To continue growing, we need to hire more people,” he added. “Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to be a hotel employee, with wages, benefits, flexibility and upward mobility better than ever before.”

Montana’s Labor Day report, released last September, said the state is experiencing an economic boom, “with more Montanans working than ever before.”

“Businesses have continued to thrive, grow, and increase production in the face of worker shortages by increasing productivity and raising wages to attract workers,” the report said.

AHLA, which is the largest hotel trade group in the U.S., said 2020’s nationwide drop in travel due to COVID-19 led to a loss of just over $13 billion in state and local revenue.

“Businesses have continued to thrive, grow, and increase production in the face of worker shortages by increasing productivity and raising wages to attract workers,” the report said.

Montana State University Billings student Teia Lackner has been able to complete her degree utilizing HyFlex courses while living an hour away from Billings and raising her daughter.

Lackner is originally from Valier, Montana, and was attending MSU Billings when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. After classes moved online, she expected to return to a more traditional, in-person learning experience in the future. However, after welcoming her daughter in July 2021 and moving an hour away from Billings, HyFlex courses granted her the opportunity to continue her education on her own terms.

“If I didn’t have the option to take flexible courses, I probably wouldn’t be completing my education right now,” shared Lackner.

HyFlex courses allow students at MSUB to complete courses asynchronously, which means students can choose to come to class in person, complete their work on their own time and watch prerecorded lectures, attend a scheduled class virtually, or do a mix of all options. The flexibility of this option appeals to many students who work, raise families, or live outside of Billings.

Currently a resident of Hysham, Montana, Lackner was able to partner with the school in her community to complete her degree’s practicum hours without traveling to Billings and was able to attend many of her classes remotely or via HyFlex. Lackner also notes that her professors and advisors have been very supportive. “Everyone at MSUB has been so understanding and willing to help me find a way to make things possible,” says Lackner.

Lackner is currently completing her student teaching experience and expects to graduate from MSUB this May with a degree in elementary education.

By TJ Martinell|, The Center Square

A new federal regulation on healthcare price transparency could cost employers in Washington state and around the nation $100 a day if they don’t comply. Yet many Washington industry groups say they aren’t even aware the rule exists. 

Under the new regulation, health insurance carriers have to publicly disclose their in-network negotiated rates or the actual price versus “official” or retail price, along with other information via an online tool. The hitch is, employers are responsible to make sure it happens.

Those unaware of this responsibility includes the Association of Washington Business, or AWB. Communications Director Jason Hagey told The Center Square the group is “more heavily focused on the state level (regulations) than the federal level.” AWB has 7,000 members that employ 700,000 workers.

Also unaware of the new rule was the Washington Food Industry Association, according to President and CEO Tammie Hendrick. The association’s members employ more than 23,000 workers. 

Washington Retail Association Senior Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs Mark Johnson told The Center Square that his group was also unaware of the rule.

The new requirement is the product of Trump administration efforts to make health care prices more transparent. It was encouraged to do so by Talon President and CEO Mark Galvin, who told The Center Square that the cost of medical services can range widely depending on the provider and whether they’re in-network or out-of-network for a specific plan.

Founded nine years ago, Galvin’s Talon provides users with a variety of software services, including a smartphone app allowing users to compare health insurance plans. 

After a 2018 meeting between Galvin and President Donald Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, a new rule was enacted through the Affordable Care Act and was later codified and expanded upon in the 2020 No Surprises Act.

Galvin told The Center Square that he saw the Trump administration’s effort as a “rare opportunity to try and solve this problem.” He was also surprised to see that the Biden administration didn’t move to scrap the rule in progress. 

The main reason for the lack of transparency on medical bills is that healthcare costs aren’t disclosed typically until the patient is billed for services, Galvin argued. Legally, health providers don’t have to disclose them prior to treatment.

The new rule, Galvin said, brought the industry from “zero transparency to 100% transparency and allowed consumers that care to be able to find the prices. We got a huge success here. Federal government did something really worthwhile for consumers can get the information they need.

Industry was effectively screwing over consumers.”

“100% transparency” in theory.

The catch: The rule places the burden of enforcement on employers who offer health insurance to their employees and face a fine if they don’t provide transparency. Aside from successfully getting their health insurance carrier to comply, the only other available option is to switch carriers.

Fines of $100 a day per business for noncompliance, or $36,500 a year, may provide a financial spur for businesses to insist on this from their insurance providers in the long term.

“We have no way to force carriers to publish their negotiated rates, because it’s a private business,” Galvin explained. “They have a First Amendment right to keep it secret,” though perhaps a financial incentive to open up.

The rule took effect in January. All covered healthcare items like prescription drugs must be part of the carrier’s online transparency tool for plan years that begin on or after January 2024.

It may take a while for the fines to start being imposed, however, as it’s not clear which federal bureaucracy gets to issue the fines.

The rule involves three agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury. It has yet to be decided which one will ask businesses to pay up.

By Samuel Stebbins, 24/7 Wall St.

The U.S. economy expanded at a faster rate than expected in the third quarter of 2022, with real gross domestic product growing at an annualized rate of 3.2%, rebounding from a 0.6% contraction in the previous quarter. The strong third quarter growth came as welcome news in a period of rising pessimism as a December 2022 Bloomberg poll of economists put the odds of a recession in 2023 at 70%, up from 50% in September.

The industries adding the most value to the U.S. economy in the third quarter of 2022 were information, which contributed 0.88 percentage points to real GDP growth; professional, scientific, and technical services, which contributed 0.59 points to growth; and mining – including oil and gas extraction – which contributed 0.5 points.

Not all states reported third quarter GDP growth, however, and among those that did, growth rates varied considerably.

Montana’s economy grew from $49.6 billion in the second quarter of 2022 to $49.8 billion in the third quarter. The 1.5% annualized expansion rate was the ninth smallest of the 47 states to report economic growth.

Over the same time period, unemployment in Montana climbed from 2.6% at the end of the second quarter to 2.9% at the end of the third.

All GDP figures in this story are chained to 2012 dollars and are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unemployment rates are from June and September and are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

by Evelyn Pyburn

As someone coming from farm life, I fully know the urgency farmers face during harvest or planting season. Even 15 minutes of “daylight” is vital. Waiting days for some techy to arrive to fix a broken-down piece of equipment is simply not an option. Waiting even two or three days could mean crop failure to a degree that they might as well declare bankruptcy, right then and there. There is no negotiating with Mother Nature.

A break-down in the field was always an opportunity for my brothers or Dad to discover another amazing invention, which often involved the great versatility of bailing wire.

Then there was the time that the witchamajig  that tied one of the knots on bales of hay quit working  and I was sat in place to tie each knot as the bale inched out of the baler – it didn’t even take Dad fifteen minutes to come up with that solution! Be assured that tying hundreds of knots does pose some risk for  painful fingers. But, hey! It worked.

Well, farm machines don’t use witchamajigs any more – like cars they are designed with tons of computerized programs and technology that are as sophisticated as anything that flies airplanes or rocket ships. Baling wire just doesn’t work – but neither does sending out a repairman from Bozeman by mid-afternoon  — in all likelihood they aren’t available. Fixing things that go wrong with the today’s technology takes great expertise and knowledge – -and scheduling, which can very well stretch into two or three days – plenty of time for two or three thundershowers that halt field work until windrows dry or create mud holes that bogs down equipment.

With the new age technology, however, the manufactures of the computerized equipment do not want to share their trade secrets, which telling farmers how to fix it would likely do — an understandable dilemma. One could have seen this dilemma coming a mile away, when they first started announcing what the new age farm equipment was going to be like. Maybe technicians and company CEO’s – -generations off the farm – didn’t understand the importance of timely maintenance and repairs, but they surely do now as farmers – their customers – are demanding speedy repairs in the field.

The big question is: what does the state legislature have to do with it? 

This is a market problem and it should be ironed out between the manufacturing companies and their customers. If the companies fail to meet what their customers need and want they will lose out to competitors who will. Or, at the very least used farm equipment, without all the new technology will escalate in value as it is sought out by farmers who want to make sure they can get their crops planted and their harvest in, even if it is with old technology.

That is what happens in a free market.

Anything forthcoming from politicians tinkering with the situation will only cause other problems. Don’t know what it will be, but that it will be there is no doubt.

 This is a really big issue that will face many people in the market place as more and more technology is developed. It needs to be corrected the right way, right now…. and it’s unlikely politicians have the answer. 

This is actually just one market problem with which Montana legislators are wrangling –  problems that the market should be allowed to sort out – -unless of course it is a problem that previous political meddling has created. Then they need to untangle that past interference and then get out of the way. That’s essentially what all the bills removing red tape which the Governor has pushed forward is all about — undoing the tangled messes that were created by meddling with market issues. Again, it’s too bad more people don’t have confidence in markets. Markets work!

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Affordable housing, wages, even an unwillingness to work are why experts say Montana businesses struggle to hire workers.

Montana is among the states where employers are struggling the most in hiring this year. Wallethub, a personal finance website, ranks Montana fourth out of all the states plus the District of Columbia. 

The list comes at a time when the labor force participation rate is only 62.4%, and in order to determine which states are ranked where, Wallethub examined the rate of job openings for the latest month as well as the 12 months. 

Tanner Avery, communications and outreach director for Montana-based Frontier Institute, says a major reason businesses are struggling to find workers is that “Montana’s most in-demand counties and cities frequently either outright prohibit or penalize affordable multifamily starter homes like duplexes.” As a result, the lack of housing has forced workers to leave their communities in search of affordable places to live.

“Fifty percent of zoned land in thirteen of Montana’s most in-demand counties either outright prohibit or penalize affordable multifamily starter homes like duplexes,” says Avery. “Among the major cities assessed in the Montana Zoning Atlas report, two-family housing is on average welcomed by-right on just 41% of zoned land, while 3+ family housing is on average welcomed on only 29%.”

National experts offer different takes as to why employers in some states are struggling more than others. 

“They are not offering high enough wages,” says Daniel Schwab, assistant professor of economics and accounting at College of the Holy Cross. “The relatively low unemployment rate makes workers confident they can find another job if they quit.”

Joelle Saad-Lessler, Ph.D., associate dean of undergraduates at the Steven Institute of Technology’s School of Business, thinks Americans might be “re-evaluating” their willingness to work. They may be due to concerns about COVID or the desire to care for their kids more.

“Perhaps they can live off the benefits they have received during the pandemic and do not have to pay for rent yet if the rent moratorium still holds,” says Saad-Lessler. “But it is not 100% clear why the labor force participation rate is still so low.”

If the labor force remains low, it could cause more problems for the economy. Raymond J. Keating, chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, says the U.S. faces a long-term challenge on the labor front with aging people. 

“Higher levels of immigration would help not only to meet the need for workers but also would boost the country’s slowdown in entrepreneurship,” says Keating. 

Only Alaska, West Virginia, and Louisiana outranked the Treasure State.

Resolution to Repeal New WOTUS Rule

Which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation has been greatly contested when it comes to Waters of the United States (WOTUS). National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members have been fighting for certainty and clear compliance standards while the rules continue to change with each administration. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) establishes a process for a resolution of disapproval that would repeal the new WOTUS rule. NFIB recently sent two letters of support for the CRA to the House and Senate.

The resolution would repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers’ December 2022 WOTUS rule that expands the federal government’s regulatory authority over wetlands, farms, and private property. The Administration ignored the calls from NFIB and America’s small farmers, ranchers, developers, contractors, and other small businesses to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Sackett v. EPA case, which is expected in the coming months.

“America’s farmers, ranchers, developers, contractors, and other small businesses have been greatly affected by the ongoing changes to WOTUS standards,” explained Kevin Kuhlman, NFIB Vice President of Federal Government Relations. “This overreaching rule increases compliance burdens and uncertainty for small businesses as they wait to hear from the Supreme Court.” 

According to NFIB’s Problems and Priorities survey, “unreasonable and burdensome government regulation” is a significant problem facing small businesses. NFIB has filed an amicus brief in Sackett v. EPA. NFIB’s brief argues the Supreme Court should reverse the lower court’s decision and clarify that EPA has exceeded its federal authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Under the CWA, the WOTUS Rule determines which bodies of water fall under federal jurisdiction. Over the years, presidential administrations have applied very different standards regarding when the federal government has jurisdiction over – and can regulate – wetlands. The EPA’s new rule reinstates a broader interpretation of the CWA that would expand federal authority over private property wetlands and land across the country. Under this standard, owners would need to acquire federal permits for lands that are dry most of the year.s

Glacier National Park will reopen the Avalanche Campground this year. Avalanche, Two Medicine and Many Glacier campgrounds will become advance reservation only through All campsites at Avalanche and Two Medicine will become available on March 1.

Bozeman’s pay-what-you-can restaurant, the Fork and Spoon is looking for help combating the rise of food prices. The Human Resources Development Council, which runs the restaurant, announced this week a fundraiser to try to match a $10,000 gift given to Fork and Spoon from an anonymous donor. The 10-week drive to raise $1,000 a week began on Valentine’s Day.

The next round of Glacier National Park vehicle registrations begins on Wednesday, March 1 at Reservations will be available for the “primetime” month of July. Glacier has expanded its reservation system starting July 1 to include Two Medicine and the Many Glacier areas of the park. The park will release the August block on April 1 and then the early September block on May 1. After Sept. 10, reservations aren’t required in any area of the park

The Columbia Falls City County Planning Board has voted to deny a proposed 180-unit development. The Board cited concerns including traffic, wetlands, the high water table and effects on the wildlife corridor. The proposed subdivision is located east of the Flathead River.

Terry and Punki Bullis have sold Bullis Mortuary in Hardin to Steeve and Valerie Kirkegard, The name of the business will remain the same.

The UPS Store, located north of Walmart in Williston, has posted a sign on their door announcing their closure. The closure only applies to the shipping store, which is a franchise ct. The Williston UPS warehouse will still conduct business as usual.

Glacier National Park announced last week the launch of a permitting system for reserving backcountry campsites. The digital system comes as park officials report a marked increase in applications for backcountry campsites. The new process for the park’s advance wilderness camping permits replaces a manual lottery system that officials said employees could no longer maintain. Backcountry campsites will be released for advance reservations on March 15. The online system only accommodates groups of one to four campers per permit.

A Black Rifle Coffee Company location has opened in downtown Kalispell. The 4,600 square foot coffee shop offers grab and go items, two different espressos, three drip coffee roasts, and 12 pour over roasts with names like Space Bear, Gunship, and AK-47.

The Homestake Pub at 1107 Utah Ave., in Butte has opened for business. Owners Jean Beht and Kyle O’Hearn bring over 50 years of experience to the new venture.

The Glendive Elks Lodge #1324 has announced the closure of Gunners Ridge and its event center this week. The organization has confirmed its intention to sell the business, Gunners Ridge Bar & Grill

MSU has set a new spring enrollment record with 15,717 students attending classes this term, as well as seeing the highest fall-to-spring student retention in a decade.

In January, In Gallatin County, compared to January 2022, median sales prices decreased 1.7%, from $812,750 to $799,000. Closed sales fell 26.4%, from 72 to 53. The median number of days homes spent on the market was significantly higher than last year’s extreme low, jumping 1000%, from 5 to 55. The average percent of list price received by sellers fell slightly by 1.7%, from 97.9% to 96.2%. The median price per square foot sold decreased 11%, from $368 to $327. Pending sales decreased slightly by 6%, from 84 to 79. New listings increased 17.1% from 82 to 96. End of month inventory continued to rise, increasing 161.5%, from 91 to 238. The month’s supply of inventory, which is an estimate of the time it would take to sell off the existing inventory, increased 255.3%, from 1.3 to 4.5 months. In general, a balanced market is considered to be between 5 and 6 months, less than is considered a sellers’ market and more is considered a buyers’ market.

Laurel and Lockwood both ranked near the top of the most affordable placed to live according to a study done by SmartAsset. Laurel ranked in first place of affordability with an affordability index of 36.78 based on such housing costs as closing fees, property tax, insurance, and annual mortgage payment. The average annual mortgage payment in Laurel is $9,532 and the median income is $56,902. Lockwood was ranked fifth most affordable after Miles City, Anaconda, and Glendive. Lockwood had an affordability index of 34.06 based on an average mortgage payment of $10,928 and median income of $62,572. Butte, Havre, Helena Valley, Lewistown and Evergreen were also in the top ten of the most affordable communities in Montana.