Culminating years of work, a small satellite designed and built by Montana State University students  was launched on Feb. 20, aboard a cargo resupply rocket bound for the International Space Station.

The bread loaf-sized satellite, called by the acronym IT-SPINS, will dock at the space station until later this spring, then be propelled into orbit and commence a more than six-month mission of measuring the properties of Earth’s atmosphere at the edge of outer space.

Since the project kicked off in 2015 with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, more than 30 MSU students in MSU’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory have been involved in developing the satellite, according to David Klumpar, SSEL director and research professor in the Department of Physics in MSU’s College of Letters and Science. The launch will mark the 12th time a small satellite designed and built by MSU students in SSEL has been sent to outer space.

“We give students the opportunity to take a lot of responsibility in developing the mission, designing and making the hardware, putting it all together and then testing it to make sure it’ll survive the launch and work in space,” Klumpar said. “It’s a really hands-on experience.”

Using a specialized sensor created by the nonprofit research institute SRI International, the satellite will measure ultraviolet light emitted by charged particles, or ions, in the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere and thermosphere. IT-SPINS stands for Ionosphere-Thermosphere Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies. The study could lead to improved forecasting of “space weather” in which variations in solar ultraviolet and X-ray radiation cause the number and intensity of ions to increase, sometimes interfering with satellites and orbiting spacecraft.

Besides the sensor, the satellite — including solar panels, batteries, communications hardware and a variety of computerized controls — was almost entirely designed and built by students, mainly engineering and computer science majors, with the help of SSEL staff, Klumpar noted.

Nevin Leh, who earned his bachelor’s in computer science from MSU in 2016, worked on the project as a junior and senior. He programmed the software that sends commands to the satellite, tracks it in the sky and downloads the data it collects.

Recent months have been a scramble as Leh, along with other SSEL staff and students, went through the final rounds of testing to ready the satellite for launch. “After you send something to space, you can’t just go up there and fix it,” Leh said.

Part of the testing involved putting the satellite in a vacuum chamber at MSU and cycling the temperature between minus-20 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, simulating the harsh sun and chilling shade the MSU creation must endure as it orbits the Earth 14 times per day. The MSU team included specialized materials and coatings in the design to help the device retain needed warmth while also radiating excess heat.

SSEL will be involved in monitoring IT-SPINS and downloading data when the satellite passes within line-of-sight of the MSU campus, which will happen a couple times per day, according to Klumpar. MSU researchers will be involved in analyzing the data using a software developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, a collaborator on the project.

Calling to Reinstate Keystone XL Permit

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen led a coalition of 14 attorneys general last week calling on President Joe Biden to reconsider his unilateral revocation of the 2019 Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and advised him that states are reviewing available legal options to protect their citizens and interests.

In letter, Knudsen and the attorneys general coalition reiterate the harms Biden’s decision will inflict on Americans: thousands of displaced workers, increased reliance on energy produced in Russia and the Middle East, and lost economic activity and opportunity.

“Your decision will result in devastating damage to many of our states and local communities. Even those states outside the path of the Keystone XL pipeline—indeed all Americans—will suffer serious, detrimental consequences,” Knudsen led the attorneys general in writing to Biden. “In Montana for instance, killing Keystone XL will likely cost the state approximately $58 million in annual tax revenue. Montana will lose the benefits of future easements and leases, and several local counties will lose their single-biggest property taxpayer. The loss of Keystone XL’s economic activity and tax revenues are especially devastating as five of the six impacted counties are designated high-poverty areas.”

The pipeline would run 285 miles through Montana crossing through six counties. Montana businesses, local governments, and utilities have made substantial investments in preparation for the pipeline, which are now rendered lost by Biden’s action. As a result, energy bills for some Montanans’ are likely to increase and schools and local governments in eastern Montana will lose out on much needed revenue.

Knudsen criticized Biden for failing to consult the State of Montana on the costs to consumers and economic impacts, setting a dangerous precedent for other permits and projects, and “virtue signaling to special interests.”

“Please be aware that the states are reviewing available legal options to protect our residents and sovereign interests. In the meantime, we urge you to reconsider your decision to impose crippling economic injuries on states, communities, families, and workers across the country,” Knudsen and the attorneys general wrote.

The letter was also signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

The cost of workers’ comp in Montana will drop 14.6 percent as of July 1.

Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Montana State Auditor Troy Downing, has approved a decrease in workers compensation loss costs. 

The overall average decrease, which goes into effect on July 1, 2021, is 14.6 percent compared to last year’s drop of 8.1 percent. This decrease is the largest since 2019 at 17.2 percent. The Montana State Fund and private insurers use the approved lost costs to assist in establishing the prices businesses in Montana pay for workers compensation insurance. 

“This is great news for Montana businesses already struggling due to the Covid 19 lockdowns and economic uncertainty. Lower insurance costs mean Montana businesses are more competitive nationally, can raise wages, and can pass savings onto customers.” Downing goes on to say, “My Administration is focused on reducing insurance prices across the board to help businesses, employees, and consumers prosper.”

The National Council on Compensation Insurance filed the 14.6% decrease, and Commissioner Downing has approved it.

Attorney General Knudsen Leads Coalition Calling on Biden to Reinstate Keystone XL Permit

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen led a coalition of 14 attorneys general last week calling on President Joe Biden to reconsider his unilateral revocation of the 2019 Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and advised him that states are reviewing available legal options to protect their citizens and interests.

Knudsen and the attorneys general coalition reiterate the harms Biden’s decision will inflict on Americans: thousands of displaced workers, increased reliance on energy produced in Russia and the Middle East, and lost economic activity and opportunity.

Knudsen led the attorneys general in writing to Biden. “In Montana for instance, killing Keystone XL will likely cost the state approximately $58 million in annual tax revenue. Montana will lose the benefits of future easements and leases, and several local counties will lose their single-biggest property taxpayer. The loss of Keystone XL’s economic activity and tax revenues are especially devastating as five of the six impacted counties are designated high-poverty areas.”

The letter was also signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

By Nicole Rolf and Rachel Cone, Montana Farm Bureau Federation

Between virtual technology and a new bill drafting system, the 2021 Montana Legislative Session is operating at a slower pace than we’re familiar with. The Legislative body has chosen to opt out of its traditional Saturday floor sessions, saving those days for business days at the end of the season. Montana’s legislature is allowed to meet for no more than 90 working days. ‘Saving days’ by not conducting a floor session on Saturday will lengthen this process, but it won’t cost taxpayers additional operating money, as they’re still only meeting for the allowed 90 business days. 

This matters because it has pushed the transmittal deadline – the day all non-revenue bills must be moved to the second house – back several days. This means we have slightly more time to introduce bills and get them worked through the process before they must be transmitted to the other chamber. Right now, it looks like the transmittal deadline will be the somewhere in the end of the first week of March. 

House Bill 108: Revise trespass laws regarding permission for hunting, introduced by Rep. Denley Loge (R), HD 14. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports.

This bill was first heard in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee and it was passed by the full House. This week the Senate Fish and Game Committee heard this bill and passed it in Executive Action shortly after. These amendments to current trespass statute regarding hunting makes the legal language more explicit and may make penalties more severe for failure to obtain landowner permission when hunting, trapping or retrieving game on private land.

This is an important bill to show support to private landowners who take trespass seriously. Under this amended legislation, a hunter who fails to obtain landowner permission and trespasses on private land may be fined a minimum of $135 (the current fine), or up to $500. This allows the legal body handling the charge to assign a penalty depending on the severity of the charge. It also requires any person convicted of trespass to forfeit any current hunting, fishing or trapping license issued by the state for not less than 12 months or more than three years. It also includes language to further penalize subsequent trespass convictions. This legislation sends a clear message that trespass is a serious offence in Montana. It’s important to note that this bill was brought forward by the Private Lands Public Wildlife (PLPW) advisory committee, with the intent of strengthening landowner/sportsmen relations. We appreciate this effort.

House Bill 187: Provide for local option sales tax, introduced by Rep. Dave Fern (D), HD 5. Montana Farm Bureau member policy opposes.

The concept of a “local option sales tax” has been brought to the legislative body in many forms, many times over the years. A local option sales tax would allow municipalities or city/county governments to implement a sales tax in their jurisdiction with the approval of a local electorate vote. This iteration of the idea would allow for up to 2 percent sales tax on retail goods, and it specifically notes that revenues could be used for property tax relief or for local infrastructure upgrades in the jurisdiction in which it is assessed.

While our farming and ranching members strongly support efforts to relieve property taxes, they are equally adamantly opposed to local option sales taxes. Here’s why: the funds raised by this tax are not evenly distributed throughout the state and essentially result in the redistribution or rural dollars to urban areas. Those of us who live in rural Montana know there are many supplies we have to go to larger towns to purchase. When a local option sales tax is in effect, we end up paying the tax in the city and leaving our money there. It exacerbates the transfer of rural dollars to more urban areas, essentially asking rural people to help relieve the property tax in urban areas or fund the infrastructure needs of that municipality. Rural people don’t benefit from this system.  

House Bill 14: Long-Range Building Bonding Program, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins (R), HD 92; and House Bill 2: General Appropriations Act, sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones (R), HD 18.    

We’ve shared updates on these two appropriations bills before, but it’s important to note that these funding bills require long focus and diligence. We’re frequently monitoring their progress and show up regularly to voice our support for funding for specific parts of these bills.

In addition to providing bonding allocation for the proposed and much-needed new Veterinary Diagnostics Lab, HB 14 provides for long-term bonding to support a new Wool Lab and improvements at some of Montana’s Agriculture Experiment Stations, too. The Wool Lab is currently one of only two wool research and service laboratories in the country. It provides critical research and analytical services to a large region of sheep producers. Montana Agriculture Experiment Stations provide vital research for our state’s No. 1 industry, and innovations that support our livelihoods. Additionally, MFBF has gone on the record supporting the Department of Livestock and Department of Agriculture budgets, which are part of HB 2.

By Roger Koopman

When Travis Kavulla and I were still serving on the PSC, we often made the point that protected utility monopolies like NorthWestern Energy were dedicated to “privatizing their profits by socializing their risks.”  Profit — based on efficiency, performance and hard work — is a very good thing, that incentivizes every competitive and free enterprise.  But “profit” based on risk avoidance, protectionism and gaming the government system is the opposite of free market economics, and like socialism in general, rewards failure and punishes the consumer. 

HB 99, currently before House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee, would go a long way to fix the perverse, socialistic system of utility monopoly regulation that currently holds sway in Montana, by repealing a terrible, monopoly-coddling process that provides preapproval by the PSC of the generation assets NWE seeks to purchase.  This aspect of utility regulation law literally turns incentive-based market economics on its head, and passes all the financial risk of a utility’s bad decisions and over-payments onto the ratepayer. Worse, current law actually rewards utility monopolies like NorthWestern for knowingly paying too much for an asset, by providing approximately 10 percent net profits for every extra dollar of cost the PSC allows in preapproval. There is no going back.

Most utilities across the nation do exactly what any private enterprise is expected to do: make prudent, business-smart decisions on their acquisitions, based on an extensive process of analysis and due diligence. They then live with those decisions on a risk/reward basis.  But not NorthWestern Energy!    Before they buy anything, they are guaranteed that there will be no risk attached to their decision.  The PSC’s preapproval ensures that all bad outcomes will fall on the ratepayer, while the utility will continue to have its customers cover all costs plus 10 percent.  So where is the incentive for NorthWestern to choose wisely and buy low?  The answer: there is none.

Preapproval is an ancient relic from “deregulation” days, when Montana Power couldn’t own power plants and was getting all its electricity from outside sources.  It has no relevance to the post-deregulation energy marketplace, and yet NorthWestern’s lobbyists have been able to successfully keep it in statute for 14 years since deregulation ended.  The company has become weaker, not stronger, as a result of being artificially insulated from normal business risk.  They continue to successfully socialize the risk through the power bills they send to all ratepayers, while reaping windfall profits on their bad decisions.  Tragically, there are numerous examples of this.

The reason this anti-market, anti-consumer, socialistic statute remains on the books is not because the liberal Democrats embrace it, but because the purportedly conservative, free market Republicans do!  Republicans just don’t get it when it comes to market-based, incentive-based regulation of state-sponsored monopolies like NorthWestern Energy.  For years now, GOP legislators have labored under serious misconceptions about utility regulation and the fundamental difference between risk-overcoming competitive enterprises and risk-avoiding, protected monopolies. 

I keep wondering when the light will go on, and these otherwise conservative Republicans will start reminding themselves of what they say they believe in, regarding freedom versus socialism.  I keep hoping that in the “next session,” Republicans will finally leap over the chasm they created between their free market beliefs and the way they swaddle NorthWestern Energy in a blanket of risk-shifting protectionism.

HB 99 is that opportunity for Republican legislators to take a stand for good, market based economics that not only serves and protects the interests of captive NWE consumers, but also prompts the utility itself to operate as a proud, confident and self-reliant enterprise, willing to assume its own business risks and become stronger and more efficient in the process.  On the energy utility front, it’s time to replace the lose-lose of socialism with the win-win of freedom. 

By Brent E. Donnelly, District Director –  Montana U.S. Small Business Administration

Information on the COVID programs through SBA continues to be updated..  Monitor the SBA website at www.sba.gov.

l Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) – The application portal remains open for EIDL.  Businesses may apply for loans through December 31, 2021.

l  Updated FAQ’s are on the SBA website- Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) (sba.gov)

l  EIDL main web page (includes information on the EIDL Targeted Advance):  COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans

l Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) – FAQs were updated for more clarity and posted on the SBA website on Friday.  Shuttered Venue Operators Grants: Frequently Asked Questions Feb. 5, 2021 (sba.gov)  Organizations considering applying for SVOG should review the updates.  I am including a few (be sure to see the link for all) items of note below which we’ve received some questions: (note:  these are “copy/paste” from the FAQ’s)

l Is an entity that applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan in July 2020 eligible to apply for an SVOG? Yes, if an entity applied and was approved for a PPP loan prior to Dec. 27, 2020, it is eligible to apply for an SVOG.

l  Is an entity that applied for a First Draw or Second Draw PPP loan on or after Dec. 27, 2020, eligible to apply for an SVOG? No. Both examples would not be eligible to apply for an SVOG unless and until the PPP loan application (whether First Draw or Second Draw) is declined.

l  Can an entity apply for a PPP loan now and decide later on the loan if it did not receive an SVOG? At what stage is a PPP loan considered “received”? No. Per the Economic Aid Act, as well as how the PPP loan system operates, entities cannot apply for a PPP loan and SVOG at the same time. Entities must make an informed business decision as to which program will most benefit them and apply accordingly. If an applicant is rejected by one program, it will then be eligible to apply for the other.

l  What can an entity do to get ready to apply? As the SBA works on building the application platform, it would be in your best interest to register for a DUNS number so you can then register in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Also, gather documents that demonstrate your number of employees and monthly revenues so you can calculate the average number of qualifying employees you had over the prior 12 months. Lastly, determine the extent of gross earned revenue loss you experienced between 2019 and 2020. This and additional information such as floor plans, contract copies and other evidence will be needed to apply for an SVOG.

l Must applicants register in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov) or can they use other identifiers like ITINs or EINs to apply for an SVOG? SVOG applicants need to register with the federal government’s SAM at www.SAM.gov to apply and cannot use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, Employer Identification Number, or other means of identification or registration. Interested parties are encouraged to obtain a Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) number (a prerequisite for SAM registration) as soon as possible. With a DUNS number, interested parties then should immediately begin registering in SAM.gov, as the SAM registration may take up to two weeks once submitted.

l When will SVOG applications open? The SBA is working expeditiously to open SVOG applications and encourages you to stay up to date by frequently visiting www.sba.gov/coronavirusrelief for information.

l  SVOG website:  Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (sba.gov)

By Billings Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce

When we asked our membership last June about policy priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session, Public Safety was in the top 3. It was not a surprise. Anecdotally we hear from members tired of reading about another murder, wondering when we’ll get the meth epidemic under control, and avoiding downtown because of the transients. Unfortunately those concerns aren’t overblown.

Violent crime in Billings increased 115% in the last ten years. A report put together in 2019 for the Substance Abuse Connect (SAC) group, a partnership of providers, law enforcement, and businesses with the goal of addressing addiction issues in Yellowstone County, highlights some other sobering statistics:

—“Substance misuse and abuse are common in the Yellowstone County/ Billings community with more than 4,000 individuals aged 12 years or older dependent on or abusing illicit drugs.”

—”[M]ethamphetamine is the most common drug seized by law enforcement officials in the community.” 

Substance Abuse Connect has made significant progress since its inception to identify our needs and work toward the goals of the 2020 – 2023 Action Plan: (1) increasing our community’s collective impact; (2) improving diversion and treatment; and (3) increasing access to substance abuse prevention.

 In addition to the efforts of SAC, the Downtown Billings Alliance hired a Resource Outreach Coordinator (ROC) to work alongside the BPD Downtown Resource Officers and engage individuals living with substance abuse disorder. Recently, an allotment of beds at the jail were made available to re-institute a highly successful diversion and treatment program used in Billings know as Motivated Addiction Alternative Program. In short, the goal is to move people from addiction, into treatment, and ultimately onto recovery and transformation.

 While Billings has seen some great successes recently, we continue to face issues of capacity and funding. Additional resources are needed to fully combat the drug epidemic we face. Governor Gianforte’s focus on this matter, and his creation of the Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment (HEART) fund can help provide those resources. Using tax revenue from marijuana and tobacco tax settlement monies the governor’s budget invests $23.5 million/year to fund a complete continuum of prevention and treatment in Montana communities.

The Billings Chamber is grateful for Governor Gianforte’s prioritizing addiction issues. Billings has built a great model of cooperation and success. Additional resources from the state will help to fill the gaps we might not otherwise be able to plug. I’m hopeful that before the 2023 Legislative Session, we’ve done enough to combat the drug epidemic and improve public safety that our members no longer list public safety in their top 3 issues.      

House Bill 252, Tax credit for trades education and training, Rep. Llew Jones (R), Conrad

Billings Chamber Supports

One of the issues we hear from industry and trades businesses is a need to balance the emphasis of education between four-year colleges and careers in the trades. Providing a tax credit for businesses to offset the costs of trades education and training is a productive step toward addressing the workforce challenges our trades businesses face. This is incredibly important now, as we recover from a global pandemic that will forever impact our economy. Businesses have found new efficiencies and the evolution of new technologies necessitate continuous education and training across industries. On February 9th, the bill will be heard in House Tax.

House Bill 303, Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act, Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R), Ft. Benton

Billings Chamber Supports

One of the Billings Chamber’s priorities is to reduce the cost of doing business in Montana. The governor’s Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act accomplishes that goal. Current law allows a tax exemption on the first $100,000 of business equipment subject to the business equipment tax (BET). The BIG Jobs Act would double that exemption to $200,000, effectively eliminating payment of the BET by approximately 4,000 small business owners. With less spending on the BET, this means more spending in our local communities, benefiting businesses that may not even be subject to the BET. On February 9th, the bill will be heard in House Tax.

Senate Bill 159, Personal income tax relief, Sen. Greg Hertz (R),  Polson

Billings Chamber Supports

This bill reduces the top personal income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.75%, starting in tax year 2022 and applying to taxable income above $18,500. Relative to other western states, our current top income tax rate is one of the highest which can be a barrier for attracting the best and brightest workforce to Montana. While we know tax rates are only one of many factors affecting where people decide to live, our competition has similar outdoor opportunities and quality of life, making the difference in tax rates stand out. And with more money in their pockets, Montanans will spend more with our local businesses. On February 11th, the bill will be heard in Senate Tax. 

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an independent bureau within the United States Department of the Treasury, has finalized a new mandate on bank lending. Though aimed at expanding access to banking services, CEI Senior Fellow John Berlau warns the rule will impose significant red tape and political worries on banks of all sizes:

“The final ‘fair access to financial services’ rule released by the Office of Comptroller of the Currency is the wrong answer for politically disfavored businesses and will burden banks of all sizes with more red-tape and government-interference with financial transactions. The rule will lead to more, not less, politicization of the financial sector as businesses from abortion providers to gun manufacturers can harangue Main Street banks for ‘political bias’ in routine lending decisions. CEI believes the government should neither pressure banks to avoid certain industries, as the Obama administration did in the now-defunct Operation Choke Point, nor force banks to provide financing to these industries, as this rule would do.

“It is especially disappointing that the final rule does not appear to exempt banks of any size from its reach. While the OCC states a ‘presumption’ of $100 billion asset threshold, it specifically adds that banks smaller than this size could be subject to the rule if they meet a vague definition of ‘raising the price’ of a financial service. This will leave a costly state of uncertainty for the nation’s smallest banks.

“As I noted in comments to the OCC, the rule ‘would particularly harm the new entrants to financial services that the OCC is now rightly championing. These firms may have specific fintech areas of expertise, or they may wish to specialize in serving businesses specific to their respective communities.’ Thus, these banks may get punished by this rule for excluding types of businesses outside their areas of specialization.

Business leaders, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders testified on Feb. 9 in support of Governor Greg Gianforte’s Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act.

A key initiative in Governor Gianforte’s Roadmap to the Montana Comeback budget, the BIG Jobs Act, H.B. 303, would exempt business equipment up to $200,000. The business equipment tax requires small business owners, farmers, and ranchers to value their property, file paperwork, and pay tax on their business equipment. The current exemption is $100,000. This initiative will relieve 4,000 small businesses across Montana of the burden of paying business equipment tax, encouraging those businesses to grow their companies and create jobs.

The BIG Jobs Act, which Rep. Josh Kassmier (R., HD 27) sponsors, has received widespread support from small business owners, farmers, ranchers, and representatives across industries in Montana. Many testified in support of the bill before the House Taxation Committee this morning.

Steve Arveschoug, executive director of the Big Sky Economic Development Council: “This bill…is a really important step forward for Montana’s broader state economy….It has that on-the-ground impact that we really need right now….It means a great deal to the businesses in the communities that I serve in our region in the state of Montana.” 

Daniel Brooks, director of business advocacy for Billings Chamber of Commerce: “One of the Billings Chamber’s priorities is to reduce the cost of doing business in Montana, and this bill does just that: reducing taxes and allowing businesses to be able to invest in growth….We also appreciate the backfilling of local revenues to ensure that local governments aren’t burdened with that choice of either raising taxes or cutting services because of changes that happened up in Helena. We’d like to thank the governor for his efforts to reduce the cost of doing business in Montana.”

Jason Brother, CEO of the Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative: “HB 303 would be a wonderful addition to attract new businesses and strengthen established businesses in the state. Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative supports these bills on behalf of the membership of the cooperative and encourages you to pass them for the great State of Montana.”

Cary Hegreberg, president and CEO of Montana Bankers Associations: “I’m here representing the thousands of small businesses that our bankers around the state serve with commercial loans, deposit accounts, and other services….Any relief that small business in Montana can get will be of great benefit, and we strongly support this bill.”

Cynthia Johnson, farmer, rancher, and vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation: “I speak in favor of HB 303 because of the positive impact to every business in Montana, but especially agriculture….We use a lot of equipment related to our business: tractors, combines, trucks….and we can’t do business without these.”

Tammy Johnson, executive director of Montana Mining Association: “This bill is about our valued associate members: our small businesses who sell everything from pipe, to PPE, to medical equipment….[HB 303] is very valuable for all of those members who support our producers in Montana, and we urge a due pass on this legislation.”

Bridger Mahlum, government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce: “The Montana Chamber has been a strong advocate for the past two decades of lowering or eliminating the business equipment tax….This is a bread-and-butter issue for the many hundreds of members that the Montana Chamber represents, and we would strongly urge you to pass this bill.”

Nicole Rolff, senior director of governmental affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation: “We are pleased to be able to support HB 303 this morning….Farming and ranching is a capital intensive business. They often say we’re asset rich and cash poor, because there are a lot of tools that a farmer and rancher needs to run the business….We believe that this bill will encourage investment in two ways: one, reducing the tax burden on farmers and ranchers will allow a farmer to choose to add an additional piece of equipment to their lineup, or it may allow a rancher with a few more extra dollars in his pocket to go and reinvest that in a local community. It’s a win-win.”

Jan Rouse, government affairs specialist for NorthWestern Energy: “We see this bill as providing increased strength to our families, financially, and the economic benefits of businesses. Overall, as a part of this larger package, we see this bill as an optimistic and energetic view of our vision for the state of Montana going forward.”

Elaine Taylor, president and executive director of Montana Beverage Association: “[We’re] supporting HB 303 today and its benefits for businesses in Montana. On a personal note, I’d also like to support 303 for my family ranch on my side, as well as the family ranch on my husband’s side.”

Jason Todhunter, headwaters regional representative of Montana Logging Association: “It’s an exemption, not a threshold, that means everyone gets a little bit of tax relief. It’s going to be a really big deal for the small operators, but everybody will see something out of this, so we urge your support.”

Steve Wade, on behalf of the Montana Contractors Association: “Montana Contractors has memberships of all sizes, and HB 303 is an extremely beneficial piece to assisting those smaller companies that comprise our membership in one, being able to invest in their businesses, but also being able to invest in their employees.”

Jule Walker, field services specialist for the Montana School Boards Association: “Montana School Boards Association supports HB 303 for the targeted tax relief to small businesses. We appreciate that school districts will be reimbursed for that lost revenue. We respectfully request your support for HB 303.”

Gary Wiens, CEO of the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association: “HB 303 would…help close the gap between Montana and its neighboring states in its efforts to attract important businesses to our state. The Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association supports these bills on behalf of the membership, which provide power in every county in Montana, and encourages you to pass them for the great State of Montana.”

Ronda Wiggers, representing Montana Coin Machine Operators, Montana Water Well Drillers Association, Helena Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business: “When I sent these bills out ten days ago to the business associations that I represent, they unanimously asked me to come before you and support lowering their taxes….This money in the pockets of our small businesses being able to spend it on the things they need to keep their businesses going is very important for our local economies. The associations I represent would ask for a due pass.”