The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center (MCHF & WHC) has announced their 16th class of inductions into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame. The inductees were chosen from a field of candidates nominated by the general public. Inductees are honored for their notable contributions to the history and culture of Montana.

“The Hall of Fame exists to honor those who have made an impact in their part of the state and represent Montana’s authentic Western heritage for future generations,” said DuWayne Wilson, MCHF & WHC president. “Our volunteer trustees around Montana vote on nominations that come from the district in which they reside.”

The MCHF & WHC board of directors has designated 12 trustee districts across the state from which up to 20 trustees may be appointed. Nomination criteria established by the board for the Class of 2024 inductions allowed the election of one Living Inductee and one Legacy Inductee from each of the 12 districts.

District 1 (Daniels, Phillips, Roosevelt, Sheridan, & Valley Counties):  Living: Henry “Gary” Danelson of Scobey; Legacy: David C Funk of Frazer.

District 2 (Dawson, Garfield, McCone, Prairie, Richland, & Wibaux Counties):  Living: Harold Lee Isaacs of Jordan; Legacy: Donald Goodman “Don” Holt of Sidney.

District 3 (Carter, Custer, Fallon, Powder River, Rosebud, & Treasure Counties): Living: Wayne M. Morford of Miles City; Legacy: Miles City Bucking Horse Sale of Miles City.

District 4 (Blaine, Chouteau, Hill, & Liberty Counties): Living: Leon LaSalle of Laredo; Legacy: Clarence Basil Cuts The Rope of Hays.

District 5 (Cascade, Glacier, Pondera, Teton, & Toole Counties): Living: Alvin “Dutch” Lunak & Stuntmen of Blackfeet Country of Valier; Legacy: Joe DeYong of Great Falls.

District 6 (Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith Basin, Musselshell, Petroleum, & Wheatland Counties): Living:  Durl J. Gibbs of Buffalo; Legacy: Donald Elton “Don” Abarr of Grass Range 

District 7  (Big Horn, Carbon, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, & Yellowstone Counties): Living: Lynn “Jonnie” Jonckowski of Billings; Legacy: Elmer E. “Slim” Kobold of Kirby.

District 8 (Broadwater, Jefferson, & Lewis and Clark Counties): Living: Lenore McKelvey Puhek of Helena; Legacy: Paul B. Hart of Helena.

District 9 (Gallatin, Meagher, & Park Counties): Living: Delbert & Janice High of Bozeman; Legacy: Raymond P. “Ray” Ansotegui of Livingston.

District 10 (Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, & Sanders Counties): Living: Betty Mae Wemple Schall of Arlee; Legacy: Alvin Merritt of Pablo.

District 11: (Mineral, Missoula, & Ravalli Counties): Living: Paul Zarzyski of Missoula; Legacy: William E. “Bill” Mytty of Lolo.

District 12: (Deer Lodge, Beaverhead, Silver Bow, Granite, Madison, & Powell Counties): Living: Walter Elroy “Walt” Shaw of Cardwell; Legacy: John William “Pat” McDonald of Philipsburg.

The honorees will be inducted during the MCHF Annual Induction Ceremony & Western Heritage Gathering February 10, 2024, in Great Falls at the Heritage Inn.

In Montana the State and Local Governments collected $5,148 per person in 2021. The collections were 30th highest – in other words, 30 states collected more in tax revenues per person in 30 other states.

New York collected the most at $10,266. New York was, however, exceeded by Washington DC where collections were $13,278. California collects $9,175 per person.

State and local government in Alaska collect the least at $4,192 per person. Alabama was second to the last collecting $4,245 per person. Tennessee ranked 48th pulling in $4,272 in revenues for each citizen, followed by Florida at $4,405 in state and local government revenue collected per person.

Among Montana neighbors, North Dakota ranks the highest collecting $7,005 per person in state and local government taxes. Idaho ranks 41st, collecting $4,650 per person. Wyoming collects $5,213 per person, ranking it 28 and South Dakota ranks 38th, collecting $4,677 per person.

The Tax Foundation explained some of the figures stating, “Alaska is an anomaly here: while the state imposes incredibly low tax burdens on residents, its severance taxes generate substantial revenue that often yield relatively high collections per capita. FY 2021, however, captured a period of significant fluctuations in oil markets, from which the industry—and Alaska’s revenues—have since recovered. Similar effects are evident in other resource-dependent states, like North Dakota and Wyoming, which had markedly lower per capita collections in FY 2021 than in years prior, or (based on their own revenue data) since. These states export much of their tax burden, and there was simply less to export that year.”

The Tax Foundation further commented, “It’s worth noting that severance taxes are only one of many examples of the “tax exporting” that states engage in. Travel taxes—such as hotel, car rental, and meal taxes—also disproportionately impact nonvoting nonresidents who have few means of redress. As a result, states that generate substantial amounts of tax revenue from tourism may also show tax collections per capita that are higher than the actual tax burden that falls on the in-state population. Taxes on businesses may also be exported, at least in part, to investors across the country, and to employees wherever they are located. It is important to keep both legal incidence and economic incidence in mind when evaluating the true costs of any tax.

State and local governments fared well in FY 2021, but with all the ways our world has changed since the start of the pandemic, that feels like eons ago. Even though these maps are always limited by the timing of Census data releases, it’s fair to ask where things stand now. And fortunately, while we can’t go state by state, we do have quarterly data for the national aggregate of state and local tax collections through FY 2023.

Since FY 2019, the last full fiscal year before the pandemic, state and local tax collections have risen more than 27 percent. Much of that gain is subsumed by inflation, but even after adjusting for inflation, state and local tax revenues are more than 7 percent higher than they were pre-pandemic.

Revenues soared in FY 2021, jumping a full 10 percent (inflation-adjusted) higher than pre-pandemic figures, edging up even higher in FY 2022 (to 12 points up) before coming down to earth a bit in FY 2023. But this should not be alarming. Partly, it is a reversion to the mean: state revenues skyrocketed, and it’s okay for them to level off or even decline a little, as long as the new totals remain higher (in real terms) than before. Additionally, almost every state has adopted tax cuts since the start of 2021, including 25 that have cut individual income tax rates since then. Legislators wanted to return some of the revenue growth to the taxpayers—and even with that, revenues remain up in real terms.

Recent revenue declines, moreover, are concentrated in California and New York, high-tax states with intense reliance on high marginal income tax rates. Not only are these states more vulnerable to income fluctuations among high earners—an important source of volatility—but in an increasingly mobile environment, they’re driving some of those high earners to other states as well. While only state (not local) tax revenue data are available at a state-by-state level for more recent fiscal years, New York and California’s combined state tax revenue is up 2.9 percent in real terms since FY 2019, compared to 11.3 percent growth in the rest of the country.

I appreciated my time spent on this 95 mill property tax issue with you , the Dept. of Revenue and the Lobbyist for the School Organizations.  I am dis-appointed with the Supreme Court ruling but will abide with it.  The educational value  of researching and understanding how the school, local government and state school funding is calculated on a tax bill was worth the effort.

But Governor, Your press release on this ruling you stated that you are committed to long-term reform “including holding the line on local spending that drives property tax increases.”

You and the ruling just ordered the Commissioners of Beaverhead County to levy an ADDITIONAL  $602,677 on the taxpayers of Beaverhead County.  49 of the 56 Counties across Montana fought hard to control property tax increases this year only to be challenged by You and your Dept. of Revenue to levy an additional $78,774,449 on a statewide level.  So much for driving property tax increases.

Beaverhead County taxpayers need to know that

Beaverhead Co. Accessed  19.65 mills LESS than last year.

City of Dillon  Accessed 24.14  mills LESS than last year.

School Dist. #10  Accessed  29.67 mills LESS than last year.

BCHS Accessed  17.10  mills LESS than last year.

This was all done by local government trying to control the increase of property taxes by following state law.  MCA 15-10-420

In addition, the Agencies  in Beaverhead County that have VOTED MILL ATHORITY, the Boards of those agencies decided NOT TO LEVY the full amount this year because of the extreme increases that we are seeing now.  These decisions kept $348,355 off of the current year tax bills.  Check your tax bills and you will see all levied mills are  less than last year.  Now, the only line on your tax that will remain the same is the first line called State School Levy.

This is where $600,000 of your property tax dollars will go.   This will increase revenue to the State by 34% over last year, almost $99,000,000 State wide.

One final question that needs to be researched,  “Did the local school districts just receive a $99 million windfall statewide???”  When your local school board reply’s NO, does that mean the $99 million really goes into  the State General Fund????

Thanks for allowing me to serve.

Mike McGinley

Beaverhead County Commissioner

Dear Editor:

I would like to thank our Montana Public Service Commissioners Brown, Fielder, Pinocci, O’Donnell, and Bukacek for their diligence in serving and protecting the rights and safety of Montanans.

They have recently ruled that NorthWestern Energy (NWE) is to provide a free, no cost Opt-Out for their installation of Smart/Advanced Meters, including no fees for keeping our old meters or monthly charges. 

Unfortunately, NWE has not given customers proper informed consent with which to make informed decisions.  Smart Meters have never been proven to be safe for human use and exposure. Thousands of research studies indicate harm from long term exposure to this type of constant high pulsed microwave radiation coming out of Smart Meters. These meters will also catch on fire and explode more easily and emit higher levels of dirty electricity.  Smart Meters are contraindicated for those with chronic health conditions and certain medical implants. You can research these negative health and safety effects at https:// www. research/

In August 2021, in a historic ruling, a Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. has ruled that the FCC’s safety guidelines for microwave radiation was inadequate to protect human health.  Yet, Utilities are still continuing to install Smart Meters which violate not only our health and safety, but also constitutional rights to privacy with 24/7 collection of private utility data.  Eventually Smart Meters can be used to track and control your carbon footprints.

Fortunately, we can Opt-Out of these risks by contacting NorthWestern Energy 1-800-486-4280 for an Opt-Out Application.

Mae Woo

Billings, MT

Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) president & CEO Karen Kerrigan issued the following response to an announcement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that the agency will again delay implementation of the lower threshold for 1099-K reporting (which went from $20,000 to $600 in the American Rescue Plan) for the 2023 tax year.

“The IRS was wise to make this decision given the potential for massive taxpayer confusion and the general lack of awareness and clarity on the new 1099-K threshold. At least 44 million new forms were expected to flood into the mailboxes of unsuspecting citizens who sell used items online, for example, and many taxpayers receiving these forms would not be required to do anything. But how are they supposed to know that? The absurdity of the new reporting threshold has created a massive make-work scheme for payment apps and online marketplace. It has generated significant waste and depleted resources within both the private sector and at the IRS.”

“Congress and President Biden need to be advancing policies that make things simpler, more efficient, and less costly. The new threshold requirement does exactly the opposite. While we are pleased that the IRS has once again delayed implementation of the new threshold, Congress should repeal this intrusive reporting scheme by passing the Stop the Nosy Obsession with Online Payments Act (SNOOP Act) either separately or as advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee in a broader tax relief and reform package this past June.”

In its announcement, the IRS stated that it will phase in the reporting requirement, and is planning for a $5,000 threshold for tax year 2024 and will eventually get to the $600 reporting threshold enacted under the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

By Tom Gantert, The Center Square

Inflation and price increases are by far the most important issue facing the country.

That’s according to The Center Square Voters’ Voice Poll conducted from Oct. 20-26, 2023, in conjunction with Noble Predictive Insights.

Other top concerns were Illegal Immigration (33%); Crime/violence (28%); Economy/jobs (24%).

The poll data showed that 48% of registered voters said inflation was the most important issue in the U.S. Illegal immigration had the second most support among registered voters at 35%. Crime and violence was the third most popular pick at 27%.

The poll reported that 95% of registered voters said they have seen prices increase over the last few years with 5% saying they have seen no change.

Among those who reported seeing price increases, 96% said the cost of groceries had increased and 82% said the cost of gasoline had increased.

Another 74% said their utility bills had increased.

“It’s not surprising that inflation is the top concern among voters,” said Antony Davies, an economist at Duquesne University. “Today’s grandparents were teenagers the last time Americans faced double-digit inflation. Politicians have done their best to deflect blame to the greed of corporations, leaving unaddressed the question of whether decades of low inflation were due to corporate altruism. The seeds of today’s inflation were laid during COVID when the Federal Reserve was expanding the money supply to pay for multi-trillions in government spending that Washington couldn’t afford.

One measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes as “a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.” 

The BLS bases CPI on the cost of food, clothing, shelter, fuels, transportation, doctors’ and dentists’ services, drugs and other products and services that people purchase on a daily basis.

From 2013 through 2020 in the mid-Atlantic region, the monthly percent increase in CPI ranged from as low as negative 0.2% in April 2015 to as high as 2.9% in June and July 2018.

But in 2021, monthly increases in CPI started occurring. CPI increased by 4.2% in April 2021 and then rose as high as 7% in December 2021. In 2022, the CPI monthly increases ranged from 6.5% to as high as 9.1%.

In 2023, the monthly increases in CPI have hovered at 3.7% in August and September.

The poll surveyed 2,605 voters and included 1,035 Republicans, 1,074 Democrats, and 496 Independents. The poll has a margin of error of 1.92%.

By Evelyn Pyburn

So reports are that migrants who have come to the US illegally are disappointed and want to return home. They are saying “the American dream is dead.”

As one Venezuelan illegal was quoted, “The American Dream doesn’t exist anymore. There’s nothing here for us… We just want to be home. If we’re going to be sleeping in the street here, we’d rather be sleeping in the streets over there.”

If they thought the “American dream” was handouts, freebees and socialized care from cradle to the grave, then double good riddance to them.

The “American dream” was never about those things – the American dream is, and will always be, about the freedom of individuals to work hard, to create and to generate wealth – the wealth that makes socialistic whims possible, for those who want to be kept citizens. But the socialistic whims only last until – as it has been said – we run out of other people’s money. “Other people”, of course, being those who are producing the wealth needed to sustain those who prefer not to work.

And, we should be doubly glad that they are gone because they are ILLEGAL! If they do not respect our country to the degree that their first act is to commit a crime with the crossing of our borders, then exactly when can we expect them to be law-abiding, trust worthy citizens, who truly respect this country and its laws?

The answer is never.

Never will they stand up and defend those principles or the people who live by them, when the chips are down – which is a most likely scenario with so many dishonest and disrespectful criminals abiding among us, who will vote for corrupt politicians. They vote for unethical politicians to wield the force that is necessary to aid them in their ideal of confiscating the property of the honest and productive citizens.

That there are many people crashing our borders because they want freedom there is no doubt. It is mind boggling that there are many in the US who apparently do not want freedom – people who apparently believe that powerful politicians, who will subjugate others, are their friends. It is indeed too bad that they have never studied history.

There was a reason for having a legal structure to enter the US – so immigrants would not have to sleep in the streets. Part of that process included immigrants having a sponsor – someone to help them get established so they would have a place to live, food and a job. And, US citizens across the board readily stepped up to be sponsors. Often they were church organizations, not unlike the one recently reported on in Billings that is assisting legal immigrants.

Democratic leaders in places like Chicago and New York are crying that they lack the resources to feed and house the thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants who have descended upon their communities, and they blame President Biden for not giving them enough funding to do so. They say their states have provided millions in aid but the federal government has not matched it.

These politicians are little different than the illegal immigrants who thought the “American dream” was about freebees and handouts. They too do not understand the “American dream.” They apparently do not know that it isn’t their state or the federal government that has the wealth needed to support the illegal aliens. They do not seem to know that the aid they talk about comes from taxpayers – the citizens who work and produce and abide by the laws. They express no appreciation or recognition for the people from whom the funds must come. But given the role they play as legal plunderers, their indifference is not surprising.

This situation of encouraging illegal immigrants to enter the US, seeking a distorted perception of the American dream, has every potential of unraveling the fabric of the “American dream.”

The truly sad thing is the “American dream” is not something that has to be uniquely American. Any country can have it. Nothing – absolutely nothing – stands in the way of any country having the wealth and standard of living that Americans have – but it can’t be achieved through socialism or any kind of collectivism.  The people of a country – including the US —must rid themselves of the confiscators – the corrupt politicians – and they must believe in the justness of individual freedom, and abide by the ideals and principles of individual responsibility and system of laws, rather than the favors of power mongers.

While many illegal immigrants have come with a very incorrect idea about what the American dream is –they are not alone. Many Americans hold the same mistaken ideas, which is significant because it is the IDEA that matters. It is not a matter of borders. The American dream is built upon an IDEA . . . and it is that IDEA that is the focus of the desperate efforts of collectivists to censor communications, silence free speech and criminalize the exchange of ideas, so that people never understand the IDEA. It is the IDEA of the “American dream” that they fear. The American dream is the IDEA that each citizen should be free to live life as they choose.

From the National Association of Manufacturers comes an update for October on economic indicators in the US:

* Existing home sales fell 4.1% to 3.79 million units at the annual rate in October, the lowest since August 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. With sharply higher mortgage rates, homeowners are less willing to sell their existing homes, limiting inventories for sale.

* Single-family home sales declined 4.2% to 3.38 million units, and condominium and co-op sales declined 2.4% to 410,000 units. On a year-over-year basis, existing home sales plummeted 14.6% from 4.44 million units in October 2022. The median sales price was $391,800, up 3.4% from one year ago and a record for an October reading.

* On the housing front, mortgage rates have fallen in recent weeks after jumping to the highest level since November 2000 on Oct. 26. With rates pulling back slightly, demand should stabilize moving forward.

* Durable goods data for October provided mixed news, highlighting both the challenging economic environment for manufacturers but also some lingering resilience.

* After rising 4.0% in September, new durable goods orders dropped 5.4% in October, declining from $295.41 billion to $279.44 billion. Yet, these data were skewed by shifts in transportation equipment, with large declines in nondefense aircraft and parts, which can be highly volatile from month to month, and from strikes in the motor vehicle sector.

* Excluding transportation equipment, new durable goods orders were essentially flat, up from $187.35 billion to a record $187.37 billion. Through the first 10 months of 2023, new durable goods orders have decreased 0.9%, but with a gain of 1.6% year to date with transportation equipment excluded.

* Orders for core capital goods-a proxy for capital spending in the U.S. economy-edged down 0.1% to $73.79 billion, pulling back for the second straight month from the record $73.95 billion in August (while remaining not far from that level). Core capital goods orders have risen 1.1% year to date.

* The week ending Nov. 18 saw 209,000 initial unemployment claims, a five-week low. Meanwhile, the week ending Nov. 11 saw 1,840,000 continuing claims, down from 1,862,000 for the week ending Nov. 4, which was the highest since the week ending Nov. 27, 2021. While continuing claims reflect some cooling in recent weeks, the overall labor market remains strong overall.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment dropped from 63.8 in October to 61.3 in November, the lowest reading since May, according to final data from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. Consumers felt less upbeat about both current and future economic conditions, with “a notable deterioration in expected business conditions.”

High school students’ scores on the ACT college admissions test have dropped to their lowest in more than three decades, showing a lack of student preparedness for college-level coursework, according to the organization that administers the test. Scores have been falling for six consecutive years, but the trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new federal reporting requirement aimed at reducing corporate crime will affect some Montana farmers, ranchers and businesses, according to Montana State University Extension.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, certain corporations, limited liability companies and other entities created or registered to do business in the U.S. will be required to report information about their beneficial owners to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, within the U.S. Treasury Department.

The new reporting requirement stems from the Corporate Transparency Act, passed by Congress in 2021. It is part of the U.S. government’s efforts to make it harder for bad actors to hide ill-gotten gains through shell companies or opaque ownership structures.

A beneficial owner is an individual who has substantial control over or owns at least 25% of a company.

A company created before Jan. 1, 2024, must file an initial report with FinCEN no later than Jan. 1, 2025. A company registered on or after Jan. 1, 2024, must file with FinCEN within 30 days of registration. Companies will have an ongoing obligation to file an updated report with FinCEN to disclose any changes in previously reported information or to any beneficial owner within 30 days of the change.

Montana farmers, ranchers and businesses can file reports with FinCEN electronically. The form to report beneficial ownership information will not be available until Jan. 1, 2024. Information about the form can be found at fincen. gov/boi.

MSU Extension provides links to FinCEN materials that provide information about the new reporting requirements which can be found at estateplanning.

In a unanimous Opinion, the Montana Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that vacated the State permit that allowed the expansion of the Rosebud coal mine in Colstrip,Montana.

In 2015, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a permit for additional mining to Westmoreland Rosebud Mining. Several conservation groups challenged the permit, arguing it was issued in violation of the legal requirements of the Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act.

A district court in eastern Montana agreed and vacated the permit, halting mining activities in the expanded area. However, the Montana Supreme Court temporarily reinstated the permit pending resolution of the legal issue. State law is based on federal requirements for regulating strip mines.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Environmental Review (the Board) made several errors when it upheld DEQ’s finding that Westmoreland had demonstrated that the proposed mining activity is designed to prevent material damage to the hydrological balance in the area.

During the permitting process, Westmoreland acknowledged a projected 13% increase in salinity in the alluvium of East Fork Armell’s Creek from the proposed mining activities.

Although the additional salts in the alluvium would not be a statistically significant concentration, they would increase the length of time during which higher pollutant levels would be present. The Court held that the Board did not adequately analyze whether extending the duration of an existing water quality violation satisfied the legal requirements. Further, the Court ruled that the Board failed to properly consider the cumulative impacts of increased mining activity on the area water quality. The ruling halts mining expansion into Area B of the Rosebud Mine and sends the permitting process back to the Board for additional review.

By Christen Smith, The Center Square

Comparison shopping for the best prices – whether it’s car insurance, appliances or toilet paper – helps consumers stay on budget.

Healthcare services, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation, shouldn’t be any different.

“The personal option is a crucial step toward putting the patient first,” said Elizabeth Stelle, the foundation’s director of policy analysis. “It would institute much-needed competition to empower patients with more plan options, lower prices, and greater transparency.”

The foundation, which advocates for fiscally conservative policies, said health care across Pennsylvania is “inaccessible, confusing and unaffordable.” Enforcing existing pricing transparency rules for hospitals, giving more practicing authority to nurse practitioners and pharmacists, and making it easier for smaller groups of workers to pool insurance plans could help, Stelle said, not “Medicare for all.”

“The government keeps expanding its role while access declines and costs surge,” she said.

Supporters of government-sponsored healthcare say “Medicare for all” would raise wages and empower workers to start small businesses, become self-employed, and find greater job satisfaction. In a 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute, researchers said job losses in the insurance and billing administration industry would be offset by healthcare workforce growth, especially long-term care providers.

The foundation, however, says knowing is power, especially when it comes to the cost of medical care – both routine and extraordinary.

As such, the report promotes the expansion of direct primary care offices, which offer patients monthly or annual memberships to provide routine and preventative medical treatment. Doing so nixes insurance involvement and the cost of staff to file claims and manage reimbursements, according to the report.

Likewise, reinstating a Trump-era executive order that loosened the regulations on what types of workers can qualify for small group insurance coverage, including independent contractors and the self-employed, could lower costs and expand coverage. Data from the Congressional Budget Office estimated the new rule could have lowered premiums 30% in the small group market.

Eleven states, including Pennsylvania, and the District of Colombia sued the administration to overturn the order, claiming it exposed workers to unregulated – and at times fraudulent – plans that excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions and other mandates required by federal law. A 2019 appeal of the ruling remains pending.

The foundation isn’t the first to sound the alarm over the worsening plight of healthcare access for residents across the state. During a House Health Subcommittee on Health Facilities meeting last month, officials said accelerated hospital closures and consolidations create monopolies that drive up the cost of insurance premiums.

Patrick Keenan, director of consumer protections and policy for the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, said during the hearing that Republicans and Democrats widely agree that legislators should promote competition and oversight.

“That really charts the opportunity for this committee to consider all of these different variations – whether it’s access to care, whether it’s cost, whether it’s the economic impacts of a closure – and really start to consider what actions might be best to empower local choice and access,” he said.