By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square

U.S. Senate Republicans are threatening to hold hearings on what they call an anti-firearms policy by one New York-based bank. 

The Senators, led by Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, accused Amalgamated Bank of manipulating Switzerland’s International Organization for Standardization to require U.S. banks to categorize gun purchases. 

“Whether it is choosing to debank firearms manufacturers, forcing all commercial clients to adopt anti-gun control codes, or divesting customer assets from lawful businesses, these decisions demonstrate your attempt to force your political views on law-abiding Americans,” the 26 senators wrote in their letter. “If you want to change gun policy, you should run for office and make yourself accountable to voters. What’s worse, these actions weren’t enough for you, so you set your sights on forcing these radical and discriminatory policies on the entire financial system.”

Amalgamated Bank lists 10 social causes on its website, which include gun safety and anti-violence. The bank does not loan money to “gun, nuclear weapon or ammunition manufacturers or distributors,” according to the website. 

The banks should “expect Congressional oversight of your actions,” the Senators wrote. 

“Let us be clear: weaponizing the financial system to enact far-left political goals is inexcusable,” the letter said. “You should consider this notice to retain all communications involving your role in ISO’s categorization scheme, and you should anticipate testifying before Congress in the near future.”

Amalgamated Bank did not respond to a request from The Center Square for comment Tuesday. President and CEO Priscilla Sims Brown called categorizing credit card gun purchases a “victory” in a statement last month. 

“This action answers the call of millions of Americans who want safety from gun violence, and we are proud to lead a broad coalition of advocates, shareholders, and elected officials to achieve this historic outcome,” Brown said.

The attorneys general of New York and California also backed the decision for a separate category for credit card gun purchases. 

 “Categorizing gun sales can help us work with our partners in police departments to combat gun violence and save live,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said. 

Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley is expanding affordable housing options for homeless families in our community.

The community is invited to join Family Promise as they  launch the “Housing is Hope’’ Transitional Housing Expansion Campaign. This will take place on Oct. 20 at 12:30pm at the current FPYV Transitional Housing apartments located at 1427 Ave C, Billings. 

Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley (FPYV) helps homeless families achieve and sustain independence through a community response to homelessness. Billings is facing an affordable housing crisis, leaving record numbers of working families without homes. FPYV is raising the $1.2 million dollars to expand our current Transitional Housing apartments with eight more units. With this expansion, FPYV can help lift more than 400 Billings kids out of homelessness in the next five years. FPYV has silently raised $800,000 of this projected budget and are in the final stretch of fundraising to add much needed affordable housing options to families in our area.

“The Billings community has been extremely supportive of our mission of giving families, not a hand out, but a permanent hand up out of homelessness,” said Lisa Donnot, executive director of FPYV.  “With the addition of eight units, our Transitional Housing Program can provide a stable roof for more than 400 children in the next five years, ending homelessness for enough kids to entirely fill one of Billings’ elementary schools.”

FPYV is the only program of its kind in Billings. It currently operates four Transitional Housing apartments, providing one-year leases for families in need. The program has proven an amazing success; together with FPYV’s Emergency Shelter Program and intensive casework, it has led to an astonishing 90% long-term success rate for our families. Over the past eight years, more than 50 families have had the opportunity to permanently raise their children out of homelessness.

The Transitional Housing Expansion will allow FPYV to serve three times the number of families.

FPYV has proven success in purchasing, renovating, and maintaining the current Transitional Housing units. It has also paid off two prior capital campaigns with zero debt.

First Interstate Bank employees recently raised more than $25,000 for the Montana Food Bank Network in support of its Feed Montana Annual Event, a month-long campaign to raise 400,000 meals.

The Montana Food Bank Network is Montana’s only statewide food bank, partnering with more than 340 network partners, including other food banks, food pantries, schools, senior citizen centers, and shelters, to help end hunger in Montana.

“First Interstate Bank challenged its Montana employees to contribute, and gifts were triple matched by the First Interstate BancSystem Foundation,” explained Jocelyn Lane, Montana Regional President. “To add some fun – and a little competition – we framed the effort as Montana State University Bobcats versus University of Montana Grizzlies.”

The campaign launched on September 1, and the claws were out.

After 30 days of spirited competition, the Cats took home the win with $4,607.33 donated to combat hunger. The Grizzlies put up a good fight raising $4,004.00. With the Foundation’s multiplier, a total of $25,833.99 was raised.

Among Montana branches, Hardin emerged victorious with 100% participation by its employees, earning a distinguished Bobcat-inspired traveling trophy.

“Commitment to community is a guiding principle at First Interstate. I’m grateful to our employees who put that value into action to benefit the places we call home,” said Lane. “We are proud to continue our long history of supporting the Montana Food Bank Network as they work to make a difference.”

The Billings Association of Realtors have announced that they have hired Steve Simonson as their New Government Affairs Director.

Simonson graduated from MSU Bozeman in Agricultural Land Resources and was the “grass pro” on several golf courses prior to returning to the family farm near Thompson Falls. The farm grew peppermint and Simonson started and sold three small businesses including Big Sky Tea. He also had a “town job” with a new start up organization Sanders County Community Development Corporation. Simonson’s economic and community development experience extended into Colorado, serving as Executive Director of Trinidad Las Animas County EDC. He was also later involved with CSU Venture Capital and the Innosphere projects in Fort Collins.

Simonson also served a five-county region as Economic Development Director for

Beartooth Resource, Conservation and Development and most recently served as the Senior Project Manager at BSEDA 

 Simonson is married to Rachel, who works in Planned-Giving at St. Johns United and together they enjoy fly fishing and all things outdoors.

The Financial Focus, by Michael Vondra, CFP

As you go through life, you will likely have long- and short-term financial goals. But how will your strategies for meeting your long-term goals differ from those needed for your short-term ones?

If you’re like most people, your biggest long-term goal is achieving a comfortable retirement. And for this goal, a common strategy is putting away money in tax-advantaged retirement vehicles, such as your 401(k) and IRA.

So, how should you go about preparing for shorter-term goals, such as a family vacation, home renovation, wedding or major purchase?

For starters, determine what your goal is, how much you can spend on it and when you’ll need the money. Even if you can’t pinpoint a precise amount, you can develop a good estimate. Of course, the sooner you start this process, the better off you’ll be, because you’ll have more time to save.

Your next decision involves the manner in which you save for your short-term goal. Specifically, what savings or investment vehicles should you use? The answer will be different for everyone, but you need to make sure that your investments align with your risk tolerance and time horizon. And you’ll want to ensure, as much as possible, that a certain amount of money is available for you at the specific time you’ll need it.

If you aren’t able to save enough to reach a short-term goal, you have other options — you can borrow what you need, or you can potentially sell investments to cover the cost. How can you decide which choice is best?

To help make up your mind, you’ll first want to consider some of the most common borrowing options: credit cards, home equity loans, personal loans and margin loans. (A margin loan lets you borrow against the value of investments you already own). How might each of these loans fit into your overall financial strategy? Will the repayment schedule work with your cash flow and budget?

You’ll then want to compare the costs and benefits of borrowing, in whatever form, against selling investments. For example, if you can borrow at a lower interest rate compared to the return you think you can get from your investments, borrowing might be a reasonable choice. You’ll also need to consider other factors, such as your credit score, taxes, fees associated with selling investments and time needed to repay debts. If, for instance, selling investments will trigger a large amount of taxes, borrowing might be preferable. You’ll also want to consider whether there’s a penalty or high costs associated with selling investments. In addition, if you have a long time horizon for a loan, you may want to sell investments to avoid paying interest for a longer period of time, and thus driving up the overall cost of borrowing. Finally, keep in mind that you may have built an investment mix designed to align with your goals and risk tolerance. If you were to sell any of these investments to meet short-term needs, you would want to consider the need to rebalance your portfolio to maintain your desired asset allocation. 

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to paying for short-term goals. But by carefully evaluating your options, you can make the choices that are right for your needs.

Michael Vondra

Certified Financial Planner Practitioner

International Jet has donated 10 total hours of flight time on a Learjet 55 (N5572) to Angel Flight West, a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that arranges no-cost, non-emergency air travel for children and adults with severe medical conditions and other compelling needs. Thanks to this donation, Angel Flight West has been able to schedule recent missions in the Billings area for patients in need. 

Every day, Angel Flight West’s volunteer pilots fly people to their medical appointments at no cost to the passenger. Angel Flight West has spent nearly four decades—and provided more than 95,000 flights—creating pathways to healthcare across the Western United States, arranging donated flights to people in need, and providing them safe passage to and from medical care. With a network of 1,600+ pilots throughout the 12 western states, pilots donate their aircraft, piloting skills, and all flying costs to help families in need, enabling them to receive vital treatment that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Averaging $5,000/hour for 10 hours of flight time, Angel Flight West patients have been given the gift to receive the care they need thanks to the volunteer pilots, staff, and flight crew with International Jet. This charitable donation supports all expenses related to the flight missions such as fuel, flight time, airplane, and crew consisting of two FAA part 135 qualified pilots. In addition, the patients, family members, staff, and supporters of the missions have been given the opportunity to personally sign their names on the side of the airplane, making this a truly unforgettable experience for all involved.

Transportation challenges create one of the most daunting barriers to healthcare—a barrier second only to cost. Through a network of pilots and airline partners, Angel Flight West arranges no-cost air transportation for people in need, supporting more than 95,000-lifetime missions since 1983, all thanks to their volunteers. Each year, in-kind donations from Angel Flight West’s volunteer pilots exceed $6 Million, helping over 5,000 passengers reach medical treatment. International Jet’s in-kind gift of aircraft, fuel, time, and pilot expertise helped multiple patients and their families reach life-saving health care.

By Victor Skinner, The Center Square

Business leaders across the country have joined together to call on the Biden administration to boost domestic energy production and to abandon a proposal to ban new offshore lease sales.

More than 200 local chambers of commerce in 47 states and 14 national associations penned a letter to President Joe Biden to urge him “to strengthen our energy security by removing impediments to greater domestic energy production.”

“High energy prices remain a major concern for businesses throughout the United States and are a leading cause of inflation,” the letter read. “Businesses of all sizes are facing burdens from increased costs for goods, services, and transportation, which combined with tight labor markets, presents major headwinds for the U.S. economy.”

The letter argued that addressing climate change and energy security “are not mutually exclusive” and increasing domestic oil and natural gas production can “accelerate the energy transition” while simultaneously curbing cash to Russia and improving the lives of Americans.

“Also, Russian oil is among the dirtiest in the world, so displacing it with cleaner, less carbon intensive U.S. production would bring obvious environmental benefits,” the letter read.

Business leaders pointed to the Biden administration’s “mixed signals” on domestic energy production and outlined three major issues that should be addressed: Ending the ban on new oil and natural gas exploration on federal lands and waters, restoring canceled oil and gas lease sales and adopting a five-year plan for oil and gas development that allows the U.S. to maximize offshore potential.

“Federal lands and waters were responsible for 22 percent of all U.S. oil production and 12 percent of natural gas. Taking these resources off the table has a significant impact on U.S. and global energy supply, today and decades into the future,” the letter read.

“On July 1, the Department of Interior proposed a new plan that included an option to completely shut down offshore exploration by allowing no new leases, creating even more uncertainty,” it continued. “It is not reasonable to ask that companies make major, long-term investments without knowing whether exploration will even be permitted.

“We urge the adoption of a new 5-year plan by the end of the year that includes the maximum possible number of lease sales,” business leaders wrote.

The letter came around the same time the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries announced plans to cut back on oil production, a move that’s expected to contribute to a spike in energy prices in the U.S.

Louisiana organizations that signed onto the letter include the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Chamber Southwest Louisiana, Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana’s Committee of 100 for Economic Development, One Acadiana, and the Tangipahoa Chamber of Commerce.

“The world needs safe, affordable energy and thankfully America has plenty of it. It’s time to get America back in the game and the perfect place to start is the Gulf of Mexico,” said Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack. “We know that producers along the Gulf Coast supply nearly 15 percent of our nation’s oil production, over 2 percent of our nation’s natural gas production and are capable of doing so much more. We need the Administration and Congress to stop tying the hands of our domestic energy producers at a time in which energy prices are rising and inflation remains at historic levels.

“America has the tools and resources, particularly right here in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast, to maintain our position as a global energy leader,” Waguespack said. “It’s time to flip the switch on American energy and allow our energy creators to do what they do best.”

By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Montana State University is celebrating the 50th year of the WWAMI Medical Education Program, which allows students from Montana to pay in-state tuition while earning MD degrees from University of Washington’s top-ranking School of Medicine.

Since WWAMI’s inception at MSU in the fall of 1973, more than 1,000 students from Montana have enrolled, according to the program’s records. More than 350 WWAMI graduates currently serve as physicians in the state of Montana.

“There were two goals at the outset of the WWAMI program,” said Martin Teintze, MSU WWAMI director. “One is to provide an opportunity for Montana students to go a top-notch medical school. The other goal was to provide physicians for the state of Montana.

“The first goal has definitely been met,” Teintze continued. “For the second goal, there are more than 350 physicians practicing in the state that are WWAMI graduates. That’s a significant chunk of physicians in our state.”

In addition to Montana, other states participating in the cooperative medical education program are Washington, Wyoming, Alaska and Idaho. Montana students spend 18 months receiving instruction from MSU professors as well as physicians at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital. The next two and a half years are spent doing clinical rotations in a variety of Montana locations, as well as Seattle and other sites in the WWAMI region.

Montana’s first WWAMI class had 10 students. Class size grew to 20 in 1975 and then to 30 students in 2013, with support from the Montana Legislature.

Students complete their first 18 months in Bozeman, which means that two groups totaling 60 Montana students are now educated in the program at MSU each fall.

“There was general agreement when Montana joined WWAMI in 1973 that Montana needed more physicians and this was the way to do it,” Teintze said. “It was also the least expensive way to do it. Building a standalone, Montana University System-run medical school would have been vastly more expensive for the Montana taxpayer.”

Teintze expressed appreciation for Montana lawmakers who supported the state’s joining the program in the 1970s and have increased the number of Montana resident students supported by legislative funding in successive decades. Students who do not end up practicing in Montana within a year after completing their education repay a portion of the subsidy they received from the state.

“We appreciate the ongoing support the program has had from the legislature for the past 50 years,” Teintze said. “It’s a long-term investment in the health of Montanans.”

Montana WWAMI students complete the majority of their clinical training in the state at more than 50 sites under the direction of approximately 650 Montana physicians, Teintze said.

“It has really become a Montana program,” Teintze said.

In the mid 2000s, the University of Washington hired a Montana clinical dean, Jay Erickson, who developed a program called TRUST, which stands for Targeted Rural Under Served Track. The program links 12 WWAMI students in each class to underserved communities. Those students spend a couple of weeks in the community in which they are paired before starting medical school as well as a month between the 1st and 2nd year. Then, in their second year, they spend five months in those communities completing part of their clinical training. There are currently 11 TRUST sites in Montana, from Miles City to Libby and from Dillon to Glasgow.

“The objective is to provide students who are interested in this kind of a work a real experience of what it is like to be a small-town physician, and to make sure they are trained by people who have chosen it as their career path,” Teintze said.

Teintze said TRUST has seen success with its goal of increasing the number of WWAMI graduates now practicing in the state’s rural areas, with alumni of that program now practicing medicine in places like Anaconda, Ronan, Hardin, Havre, Lewistown and Miles City.

“We’re hoping this success will grow,” he said.

Teintze said that, after 50 years in operation, the need for the WWAMI program remains strong.

“The average age of the population in Montana is going up, and therefore the need for medical care is also rising,” he said. “We are also facing a wave of physician retirements at a time when the need for more physicians due to the aging population is increasing, and the situation is even more dire in rural parts of Montana.

“With the time it takes to educate a medical student – four years of medical school, plus three to five years of residency afterwards – we need to be planning now for physicians that we need seven to 10 years from now. The prudent thing is to plan ahead.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

One of the first experiences of having launched a new business, 40 years ago, was a requirement to annually fill out a form for the county tax collector, listing all the equipment and furniture that was part of our business. The purpose was to pay “personal property taxes,” now commonly called “business equipment tax,” but originally,  most everyone had to pay a tax on their furnishings, whether they were in business or not.

Filling out the form was simple because we didn’t have much – a used desk, a couple chairs, and two new file cabinets.

Not having much capital to start a business, we were creative in making do with what we could find. Bear in mind that this was before computers, so layout and design was a matter of physically piecing things together. Ideally, a light table would have been nice, but we couldn’t afford that. Our solution for a large layout surface was to use an old flat door supported by the two cardboard boxes in which our new file cabinets came.

As a new business we couldn’t afford the equipment we needed but state and county governments expected us to pay taxes on everything we did have. And, no, we were not small enough to be exempt – no one was exempt.

Some time after submitting our tax form I got a call from the county tax office, a woman who wanted to go over our statement. She asked at one point if there was anything I hadn’t written down. I then mentioned our flat door and cardboard boxes, which perturbed her, and I don’t think she believed me. She became quite indignant, and said, “What about your printing press?”

I was dumbfounded and had to laugh. No small newspaper owned a printing press any more, I told her. They send their layouts to a central printing company, which — even today— prints most of the newspapers for a large region.

For her to have taken it upon herself to challenge a business about what equipment they had, one might have expected her to take it upon herself to become educated about what such a business did and what they might actually have for equipment.

But she was, and still is, not alone in not being educated about what it takes to start a business – the fact that the state has such a tax at all speaks to the fact that many people are equally as uneducated; but not knowing what they are doing has never given them pause.

A business equipment tax is directly aimed at killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and for a long, long time Montana has been beating that goose to death. While lessened to some extent, the tax still remains as a barrier to greater prosperity for Montana.

I recall hearing a comment at a manufacturers’ convention a number of years ago from a new manufacturer who had come to the state to manufacture pasta. He expressed deep disappointment that no one had told his company about the business equipment tax. He didn’t know about it, he said, until he opened the mail one day, which included an envelope with the form to be filled out. He then made the point that they would not have located in Montana had they known about the business equipment tax. He didn’t know about the tax because he had never heard of a state imposing such a tax.

Another speaker at another meeting, who was a national specialist at saving a struggling business from going bankrupt, also expressed astonishment at having discovered that Montana had such a tax. Having to pay the tax, whether making a profit or not, essentially spelled doom for any marginal business with lots of expensive equipment.

Business equipment taxes are hostile to economic development – to growing an economy – to creating new wealth. What kind of state does that?  Montana does that and it will probably continue even though there will undoubtedly be efforts to try to raise the exemption level during the next state legislature.

Over time, some improvement has been made in reducing the tax, but it has been an uphill battle.

Common sense says the tax should be completely eliminated, except for people who don’t know what they are doing. They are willing to “welcome” businesses who want to invest up to $300,000 in the state, but they most aggressively want to penalize anyone investing more. Is it any wonder that manufacturing enterprises that want to be close to the development of energy, almost always chose to locate on the eastern side of the state border at Williston?

How can anyone not know that business development and growth is the source of all taxes, most jobs and all new wealth? Every dollar left in a business will do much more for a community than any dollar transferred to government, no matter how it’s spent by government.

One of the things we all should have been able to see over the past couple of years in Montana is what happens to tax collections of all kinds when there are more businesses – businesses that are making a profit. Montana has a gargantuan surplus in tax revenues — the largest in history, because our economy– our businesses — are thriving. While there are other factors at play, none would make such a difference if it weren’t for thriving businesses in Montana. The past couple of years have clearly demonstrated for all to see what it takes to really generate the revenues that people want for government – strong, profitable businesses.

Gov. Gianforte announced that raising the $300,000 exemption level is one of his priorities for the next session of the state legislature. The news reports make sure that everyone knows that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who want to do that as though it is a terrible thing. It is quite amusing, since it seems to say that Democrats are opposed to business investment in the state. Opposed to having a strong economy. Opposed to generating new wealth. Opposed to having tax revenue surpluses. One would think there would be Democrats who would object – and maybe they are. Maybe that’s why the party had trouble fielding candidates in the coming election.

By Brad Molnar

In 1992 Marc Raciciot was the underdog against Dorothy Bradley in the general election to be Montana’s new governor. Instead of carpet bombing each other with mindless 30 second commercials they agreed to a debate in each of Montana’s 56 counties. That was cut short as all the questions had been asked and the press had covered the answers so the crowds dwindled. Compare that to today’s scenario where artful dodging of debates is considered political wisdom. After losing the election due to accepting debates Dorothy Bradley commented, “Honest debate helps reveal what candidates really believe, what’s important, what they will go to the mat for, and what kind of Montana leader they will be”.

Recent debates seem to showcase the panelists, and the answers serve more as launching pads to denigrate opponents; questions be damned. The primary season for Montana’s newly created congressional district was a long, loud, silence. Debates were often partisan centric with some candidates never showing up.

At the Yellowstone County Labor Day picnic I asked Councilwoman Penny Ronning (D) if I could ask a few questions for my column. She eagerly agreed. I also asked Gary Buchannan (I). He asked if I supported him. I refused to answer and he asked that I contact him at his office. He later called to say that he would not participate. He did not ask to see the questions. Sam Rankin (L) was emailed and called asking for his participation; no response. After reviewing the questions Matt Rosendale (R) replied. Answers were limited to 100 words.

1) How many debates have you been offered? How many have you accepted? Why did you decline the rest?                                                                                                                                                  Rosendale Campaign spokesman Shelby DeMars, “The campaign has received four general election debate requests— two that were declined due to prior commitments on the Congressman’s schedule that conflicted with the proposed dates of the debates and two that the Congressman has participated in (the MTN and PBS/YPR debates)” 

Penny Ronning (D), “I have accepted all offers for debates and town halls. Several were canceled. I assume because various candidates would not participate. For those that are yet to be held I hope all candidates participate. It’s important.

2) Is deficit spending a problem? If so, how would you address the problem? Penny Ronning (D) “Yes, it is a problem. It can be handled by investing in labor and productivity making products marked Made in America.

Cong. Matt Rosendale (R) “The out-of-control spending in DC is impacting our economy now, and will impact generations of Montanans for decades to come. Washington DC has operated without a budget for far too long. It is one of my top priorities to vote against irresponsible spending and push Congress to follow a budget. Sky rocketing inflation, increased housing costs, and the rising cost of food and other necessities—is the result of the government spending that has taken place since COVID and the massive spending packages passed by Congressional Democrats. We must rein in this spending and get our economy back on track. (Edited for length)

3) Everyone says they support public access to public lands. Would you favor changing federal grazing rules so that if a land locked parcel (defined as no access for 30 miles) is bordered by two or more private holdings, with one holding allowing public access, and one not allowing public access, then the one that will provide access shall be granted the lease?

Congressman Rosendale (R) “I think protecting our public lands is critical to preserving our hunting heritage and the abundant recreational opportunities that are central to our Montana way of life. However, I also believe in private property rights, and I don’t believe that grazing leases are a tool that should be used punitively.” 

Councilwoman Ronning (D) “Sounds like a simple business decision and solution”.

Brad Molnar is a State Senator (R), term limited State Representative and term limited Public Service Commissioner