In a state-by-state breakdown of positivity rates, in testing for the COVID -19 virus in nursing homes, Montana is in the lowest category – those states with less than a five percent positive rate.

The study was released by American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. With 71 nursing homes, Montana’s positivity rate is 4.2 percent.

The agencies are concerned about the 33 states that have positivity rates higher than 5 percent- – ranging from Arizona with 22.7 percent to Oregon with 5.1 percent. Maine and Vermont have the lowest rates at 0.7 percent.

Since July 26, there are 33 states with a positive test rate of over five percent, underscoring the need for increased testing and PPE to keep the virus from spreading.  Many states still have a significant percentage of facilities without vital PPE, including N95 masks, surgical masks, and gowns, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

 On July 22, 2020, the CMS announced that, “[they] will begin requiring, rather than recommending, that all nursing homes in states with a 5% positivity rate or greater test all nursing home staff each week.” If implemented today, 11,640 nursing homes would be required to conduct such weekly testing.

 AHCA/NCAL represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

District Court Judge Rod Souza rejected a request by the Montana Race Horse Owners and Breeders Coalition, (MRHOBC), to place an injunction against Yellowstone County to halt the demolition of the Grandstands at Metra Park.

The MRHOBC claimed that the County Commissioners did not attempt to explore the potential of placing the Grandstands on the National Register of Historic Places and that the demolition would irreparably harm horse racers and breeders.

The county rebutted that commissioners followed proper legal procedures over many months, in deciding to demolish the Grandstands. They also pointed out that the decision to demolish them was made over four months ago, during which time there was no response by MRHOBC. And, also that the county commissioners were not obligated to pursue the historical status.

Jeana Lervick, Chief In-House Counsel for the County Attorney’s office, said in the county’s rebuttal, “Plaintiff is not irreparably harmed and there is no emergency warranting the Court’s intervention.” She pointed out that Dan Fuchs, President of MRHOBC, had several times spoken to commissioners and others at public meetings about his organization’s interests and concerns. The county encouraged them to participate in an on-going planning process for the future.

On behalf of the county, Lervick asked that the court make a decision without holding a hearing.

After explaining that the court is not allowed to skip a hearing process, Judge Souza held a hearing on Friday after which he concluded that the county was acting within its authority to demolish the grandstands. He said, “…the Coalition’s interests may be met by participating in the public planning process.” Also, he stated, “As the County argued at hearing, disagreement with the Commissioners’ decision does not create a legal basis for the extraordinary remedy of injunction.”

Souza also pointed out that the Coalition was making arguments “that are not appropriate for the judiciary. . . judiciary action cannot be based on disagreement with policy decisions…Commissioners’ decision to demolish the Grandstands is a political question.”

MRHOBC is anticipating being able to finance horseracing in the future through Historical Horseracing gambling proceeds and the group hopes to resume horseracing at the Grandstands next year. It’s been nine years since there has been horseracing in Yellowstone County.

Fuchs said, after hearing the court’s decision, that the commissioners have yet to justify to taxpayers about a failure to take advantage of potential grants that are available through the historical registration process that could help refurbish the grandstands.

Lervick commented about the decision, “The Commissioners are glad to proceed with their plans and are hopeful that the Association and community will voice their hopes for what the future of MetraPark will hold.”

Newly taxable property – largely comprised of new construction—amounted to $6,955,867 in Yellowstone County, helping to boost total taxable value in the county to $396,628,206, based upon a total market value of all real property in the county of $21.8 billion. (Taxable value is a modified sum,  different than market value.)

The new taxable property compensated for a slight decline in total taxable value this year for the county due mostly to adjustments to centrally assessed properties that resulted in a slight contraction, according to Yellowstone County Finance Director Kevan Bryan.

Bryan compared that to Gallatin County, which grew five times more and “continues to lead the state in valuation.”

Because of the newly taxable property the total taxable value for Yellowstone County increased 1.8 percent, including adjustment for inflation of just over one percent.

Last year, the total taxable value — based on $21.6 billion in market value of property in the county — was $391,347,690.  

Given the taxable property value, taxpayers will see a levy of 96.45 mills on their tax bills, up just a bit from 95.18 mills last year. Bryan said that that amounts to an increase of about $1.35 on a $100,000 house.

County revenue will increase about $1 million, which gets disbursed to dozens of department budgets from the General Fund and the Bridge fund to Weed, Seniors, Extension Service, Sheriff’s Department, etc.

Total County Budget is $56 million.

Each year the Montana Chamber Foundation brings the mid-year economic projections for local, state, and national economies.  They have opened registration  for a VIRTUAL Economic Update, on August 4 and 6 when Dr. Pat Barkey, from the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, will give expert insight into what is on the economic horizon. We are beginning to get data. That might sound strange. Most of us have been swimming in data, but data on economic activity are slower to arrive. What do they tell us about Montana’s experience? Relative to the nation and many other states, we have had a slightly less severe hit to our economy, as measured by preliminary job figures. Through June, those data show jobs down 23,000 compared to last year, better than all but three states in percentage terms. The event is sponsored by Boeing, Charter Communications, First Interstate Bank, Glacier Bancorp, Montana State Fund, NorthWestern Energy, and Microsoft. To register go to www. montanachamber. com/ event -registration/ 2020- economic- update/

The Tax Foundation

Pass-through businesses, such as sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships, make up a majority of businesses in the United States. The owners of these firms pay individual income tax on income derived from these businesses. The marginal tax rates vary for pass-through firms depending on the state where they operate, as states tax individual income differently.
In 2018, pass-through firms made up over half of nearly every state’s private sector employment. The share of private sector employment provided by pass-through firms ranges from 49.7 percent in Hawaii to 72.5 percent in Montana.
Top marginal tax rates faced by pass-through firms also vary by state, ranging from 40 percent in states with no state and local income tax, like Wyoming and Florida, to 53.7 percent in California. These combined rates include federal, state, and local income taxes in addition to payroll tax.
Montana imposes a marginal tax rate of 46.9 percent.
A driver of variation in top marginal income tax rates faced by pass-through firms is whether a state taxes individual income and what the top marginal rate is. For example, states without individual income taxes, such as Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming, apply lower combined income tax rates on pass-through firms.
By contrast, states like California (with a 13.3 percent top marginal individual income tax rate) and New York (with a top marginal rate of 8.82 percent) subject pass-through firms to top combined marginal rates exceeding 50 percent. (Nevada does not have an individual income tax but has an uncapped payroll tax called the modified business tax that is levied on wages at a rate of 1.475 percent, which increases its top tax rate for pass-through businesses.)
Three states—Alabama, Iowa, and Louisiana—allow taxpayers to deduct a portion of their federal taxes paid from their taxable income. This reduces the amount of income subject to state income tax and lowers the top marginal rate faced by pass-throughs. Other states, such as Missouri, permit some deductibility but limitations to the deduction mean the top marginal rate is not affected.
Most of a pass-through firm’s tax burden is from federal income and payroll taxes. Pass-through firms must remit payroll taxes to fund programs such as Social Security and Medicare in addition to paying federal individual income tax with a top rate of 37 percent.
Qualifying pass-through firms may use Section 199A, commonly known as the pass-through deduction, to deduct 20 percent of their qualified business income from federal income tax. However, the pass-through deduction is subject to limitations for firms earning above certain income limits that operate in a “specified service trade or business” (SSTB) and other guardrails that limit the size of the deduction. This means that many pass throughs are not eligible for Section 199A and face top marginal income tax rates without it.
Pass-through firms make up a large part of the American economy and workforce, providing over half of private sector employment in nearly every state. The combined top marginal tax rate faced by these firms is a product of federal, state, and local individual income taxes. Policymakers should keep in mind the combined tax burden levied on these businesses when considering changes to tax policy.

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) announced that the paving of a single-lane roundabout on Old Highway 312 and Five Mile Road is complete. Work will now entail installing new signs, rumble strips on Five Mile Road and interim striping. In the next weeks, concrete finish-work and landscaping will occur, followed by chip sealing at the end of August. Drivers are advised to travel safely and be prepared for flaggers, workers, heavy truck traffic, and equipment entering.

From the Oil Patch Hotline

North Dakota’s top state officials geared up for a tough legal fight to join in overturning a Federal Judge’s decision to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline after warning that action could be devastating to the state.
“He (the judge) did not appreciate the economic devastation to our citizens and community,” said Gov. Doug Burgum.
“The massive economic impact is enormous,” said Atty. Gen. Wayne Stenhjem. “It impacts roads, schools, jobs and companies, taxes and royalties.”
They were reacting to the decision by Federal Judge James Boasberg to shut down the $3.8 billion crude oil pipeline and remove all oil by Aug. 5 while an environmental review by the US Army Corps of Engineers takes place.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access, is expected to appeal the judge’s decision after he rejected the company’s stay.
“Shutting down the pipeline will have a greater negative impact on safety than any environmental benefit the court is claiming to gain, putting more trucks on our roads, and more rail cars on the tracks, nearly 900 railcars per day,” said Ron Ness, president of the ND Petroleum Council. “Shutting down the pipeline will cut off North Dakota oil producers from the safest, most reliable and economic method of transporting our high-quality Bakken oil to the best markets in the country.”
Increasing crude oil hauling by train will also impact the state’s farmers during harvest season, he said.
Justin Kringstad, executive director of the ND Pipeline Authority, said 300,000 BOPD is being shipped out of state now on unit trains each carrying 70,000 BOPD.
Briefing the ND Industrial Commission headed by Gov. Burgum, Kringstad said converting more crude oil to rail shipping will be costly, adding at least $5 a barrel on top of the $8 a barrel transportation costs now.
There are 11 loading stations in the state, Kringstad said, but it will take time to ramp up additional rail cars and crews for more rail shipping. At its peak in 2012, the state was moving over 850,000 BOPD by rail.
The Enbridge pipeline running to Clearbrook, MN can handle 145,000 BOPD while the True Oil and Kinder Morgan pipelines also move smaller volumes south through Wyoming.

This fall, Montana National Guard members will be able to attend Montana State University Billings tuition-free.
Members of the Montana National Guard are eligible for scholarships, federal tuition assistance, and the GI Bill. The tuition waiver is available for Montana National Guard members as a “last-dollar award,” meaning it will make up the difference between the total cost of tuition and the sum of other funding, such as grants and scholarships that are received.
“This waiver will ensure that tuition is not an obstacle for our Guard members to pursue their higher education,” said Dawn Githens, retired Col. Air Force, director of the Military and Veterans Success Center. “It is one more service we can provide to those who serve our country.”
The waiver will be available starting Fall 2020 semester to all Montana National Guard members who do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher and who meet the admission requirements of MSUB or their Montana University System school of choice. In addition, waiver recipients must be certified as a Montana National Guard member in good standing by the Adjutant General.
“This tuition waiver will help keep members of our National Guard here in Montana, united with their families, continuing their education and strengthening our state’s workforce,” said Chancellor Dan Edelman. “Members of our Montana National Guard fulfill a crucial role for our state and our nation in times of need. Increasing access to higher education in our state with this tuition waiver is also a recruitment benefit for the Montana National Guard.”

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

As the nation struggles with record high unemployment, extended job losses, continued statewide shutdowns, and crippling national debt, a new report reveals that congressional leaders will receive an estimated $1 million each in retirement payouts on top of their lifetime pensions, fully funded by taxpayers.

First published by Forbes,’s report, “Why Are Taxpayers Providing Public Pensions To Millionaire Members Of Congress?” compares the financial benefits that both top leaders in Congress receive.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Congress is an exclusive club where members vote for their own benefits,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of the nonprofit watchdog organization, says.

By law, all 535 members of Congress receive a public pension plan and a taxpayer-funded, five-percent of salary 401(k)-style savings plan, in addition to salaries of $174,000 and higher. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s net worth is reportedly between $50 million and $72 million; Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s net worth is reportedly roughly $22 million. Their current salaries are $223,500 and $193,400, respectively.
Pelosi has received $5.7 million in total salary for the 34 years she has been in office. McConnell has received $5.5 million for the 36 years he’s been in office.

Both the Speaker and the Majority Leader voted for several spending packages this year, including the CARES Act and the Families First relief bill, which will increase the national debt by $1.76 trillion, and $192 billion, respectively, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The small business relief act added $480 billion to the total.
Spending increases and tax cuts in coronavirus legislation may increase debt initially by roughly $2.4 trillion.
Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute, estimates that the effect of the recession will reduce federal revenues a further $2.2 trillion over the next few years. With higher spending and lower revenues, federal borrowing costs are expected to be approximately $1.2 trillion higher over the next decade.

The basic CBO estimates exclude these costs, Edwards notes. All told, these decisions will add an estimated $5.8 trillion to the national debt.
And both leaders are expected to vote on another stimulus bill, which will add to this total.

Part of the spending problem contributing to this debt, notes, is the taxpayer-funded lifetime pension and taxpayer-matched savings plans members of Congress receive.

“Critics question the necessity of such a system,” Andrzejewski writes. “Why are U.S. taxpayers providing public pensions to millionaire members of Congress on top of a 401(k)-style plan? (The median net worth for a member recently exceeded $1.1 million.)”

Auditors at evaluated the financial benefits Pelosi and McConnell receive from taxpayers.

When Pelosi retires, she will receive $153,967 a year in public pension and Social Security benefits, in addition to an estimated $1 million lump sum through her federal saving account, OpenTheBooks auditors found. They explain this “is just the portion of the account that was taxpayer-funded.”
Taxpayers also paid $282,965 into Pelosi’s federal Thrift Savings Plans, which OpenTheBooks estimates grew to $1.03 million if invested in an S&P 500 index fund, as of Dec. 31, 2019.

Similar to Pelosi, taxpayers invested $273,700 into McConnell’s federal Thrift Savings Plans, which OpenTheBooks auditors estimates grew to $1.1 million if invested in an S&P 500 index fund as of Dec. 31, 2019. They add, this “is just the portion of the account that was taxpayer-funded.”
Researchers at the National Taxpayers Union estimate that McConnell’s pension and annuity package will be $142,902 annually if he retires after the 2020 November election.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, has proposed a bill to change the law, arguing that members of Congress have the “option to forego the generous retirement plans offered to representatives and senators and opt instead for a more conservative, savings-based plan like those of the Americans they represent.”

The bill, S.439, passed the U.S. Senate on Dec. 19, 2019, and sits in the House.
Braun notes that the median minimum net worth of members of the 115th Congress was $511,000, while the median net worth of a U.S. household in 2016 was $97,300.

The collective wealth of members of the 115th Congress was at least $2.43 billion, with 43 members who were millionaires, he said.
Even factoring in federal employees, only 23 percent of all U.S. workers contribute to a traditional pension, Braun adds, down from 38 percent in 1980, as traditional pensions continue to be phased out by private sector companies in favor of 401ks and other savings plans.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released an initial report about the beef packing industry.

It’s been a year since Ag Secretary, Sonny Perdue, launched an investigation into the meat packing industry amid concerns that there might be illegal manipulations or collusions going on regarding the pricing of meat products.

The initial report does not address those concerns, but evaluates the market conditions and makes recommendations for changes that might improve the industry’s vitality. USDA states that their investigation regarding the possibility of illegal market manipulations will be on-going.

In general, the agency addresses some of the problems they found and makes recommends for additional regulations and for tweaking existing regulations, which were put into place to create and sustain a concentrated market, dominated by a few large companies. A concentrated market means a market that is mostly monopolistic with only a few established companies in operation, protected by restrictions which curb potential competition and inhibits self-correcting market forces.

The USDA analysis found that a fire at Tyson Packing Plant in Holcomb, Kansas, in August 2019, which took 5 to 6 percent of the nation’s beef processing capacity off line for five months, largely contributed to earlier disparities in pricing. The fire, unfortunately, coincided with a peak demand for beef that occurs around Labor Day every year. Because the shortage pushed up the price of boxed beef, market forces kicked in and other plants were encouraged to increase production which compensated for the capacity lost at the Holcomb plant.

Even before the coronavirus, there was concerning disparities between the price of Choice boxed beef and the prices that ranchers received for fat cattle. Prior to the onset of the virus, the spread between the two price points was $67.17 per hundred pounds of meat. The gap became even wider with the impacts of the coronavirus

When many employees of packing plants began contracting COVID-19, prompting the closing of facilities, processing capacity dropped by 40 percent by the end of April. At that point, the difference in what packing companies received for boxed beef and what they paid the livestock producers for the beef was $279 per hundred pounds of beef – a whopping 300 percent above the record, set just months earlier.

As restaurants reopened and public activity returned to more normal conditions, in May the gap between the two price points began to narrow and it continues to do so.

Changes in the beef market were already in play in March due to the way consumers changed their buying habits. Stay- at –home mandates across the country prompted more people to prepare food at home which increased demand at grocery stores. As in keeping with the natural law of “supply and demand”, the increased demand pushed up those retail prices. At the same time the forced closure of restaurants, brought about a dramatic drop in demand for beef for food service companies, which are a different distribution system than that which serves grocery stores. Regulations prohibited the redirecting of the surplus beef in the service supply line, to areas of greater demand such as grocery stores, which would be expected to happen in an unrestricted market.

The USDA recommends improving transparency in pricing by imposing a regulation that would require packers to negotiate at least half of their weekly cattle needs on “the negotiated cash market” for product that is to be delivered within 14 days. The report said that when the events that led to reduced packing capacity happened “cash trade plummeted, making it difficult for industry participants to know prevailing prices.

The USDA also suggests that cattle producers do not know how to manage market risks and need government directed “risk management training.” They also point out that the Risk Management Agency’s Livestock Gross Margin and Livestock Risk Protection program can be improved to help producers manage risk.

When consumers found empty shelves in their grocery stores during the COVID panic, they turned to local small processors or tried to purchase meat directly from the farmer or rancher. The demand quickly overwhelmed the small producers, a problem the USDA suggests could be helped by offering grants to assist small meat processors to expand their businesses, which would increase competition in the overall packing industry.

The document states, “USDA further recognizes there are many discussions about reducing the burden for smaller meat processors, asserting that the high cost of compliance with Federal requirements are barriers to entry and/or survival.”

It goes on to recognize, “The current pandemic has also created a resurgence in demand for services provided by these small and very small processors, and for consumers who are interested in buying their meat more directly from the farm and ranch where it was raised… USDA is committed to working with stakeholders to balance food safety with these growing consumer preferences and growing e-commerce platforms.”
Pointing out that small producers and cooperatives often struggle to cover the mandated costs of operation, the agency reminds that there is USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant funds to provide assistance in organizing and forming co-ops.

Also, the agency sees a need to update the Packers and Stockyards Act, which regulates the industry. The report states, “Beyond rulemaking, small and medium-sized producers could also benefit from updates to the P&S Act designed to offset the impacts of operating in a concentrated industry, where the market power resides with large meatpackers. Smaller producers often find themselves to be price takers in the market for fed cattle and lack the volume of larger producers to negotiate unique and advantageous marketing agreements with large meatpackers.”