The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) announced a proposal to resurface approximately 6.5 miles of Interstate 94, east of Billings in Yellowstone County. The project begins about one mile east of Huntley and extends east for 6.5 miles, ending approximately two miles west of Ballantine.

Proposed work includes full width crack sealing, applying a seal and cover (chip seal) to the travel lanes, and fog sealing the shoulders. Work will also include bridge deck repair, upgraded pavement markings, signage, and guardrail replacement. The purpose of the project is to preserve and extend the service life of the existing asphalt, and enhance roadway safety features.

Construction is tentatively planned for 2027 depending on completion of design and availability of funds. No new right-of-way or utility relocations will be needed.

MDT welcomes the public to provide ideas and comments on the proposed project. Comments may be submitted online at http:// contact/ comment- form.aspx or in writing to Montana Department of Transportation, Billings office, PO Box 20437, Billings, MT 59104-0437.

New Education Bills Would Block CRT, Back Parents

By Casey Harper, The Center Square

A new trio of House education bills would push back on Critical Race Theory and federal rules in local public schools, the latest in an ongoing battle led by Republicans to respond to curriculum and policy changes in education.

U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., introduced the three new education bills, including the Defending Students’ Civil Rights Act, which codifies that teaching CRT is illegal discrimination; as well as the Empowering Parents Act, which allows parents to hold schools accountable if those schools embrace more progressive racial or gender ideology in the classroom.

Good also introduced the Empowering Local Curriculum Act, which says schools receiving federal dollars cannot be forced to include CRT in their curriculum.

“These three bills would combat federal encroachment in curriculum, protect students from the harmful ideology of Critical Race Theory, and defend parents’ God-given right to educate their children,” Good’s office said.

CRT is an increasingly controversial set of ideas based on the idea that the U.S. is an inherently racist country and always has been and that the U.S. and its institutions can largely be viewed through that lens.

“Parents know what is best for their students and have primary responsibility for their children’s education,” Good said. “Local school boards should represent the will of the parents, not teachers unions, the Biden Administration or DC bureaucrats. I am fighting back against the Biden Administration’s overreach into the classroom with my back-to-school agenda that empowers parents, protects students from racist curriculum, and permits children to focus on their academic pursuits.”

The bills come amid a nationwide debate over the role of parents in their kids’ education. Parents have begun organizing and protesting at school boards, raising concerns about school curriculum and sexualized books in school libraries.

Those parents have often been brushed aside in recent years, sometimes caught on camera in videos that went viral and fueled the “parental rights” movement.

Democrats have pushed back, saying teachers know best what curriculum is needed and that the effort to ban books that Republicans say are age-inappropriate is a form of censorship.

In recent years, equity and CRT ideology in education has become increasingly common with billions of taxpayer dollars behind it.

House Republicans launched an inquiry last year after reports showed that federal funding passed for COVID-related student learning loss was spent to promote “equity warriors,” critical race theory teachings and more at local schools.

The Center Square previously reported on similar funding at the collegiate level. Federal grant documents show that the U.S. Department of Education awarded millions of dollars to a Florida-based education program that trains future educators and other professionals in CRT.

Another similar program, “The Research Institute for Scholars of Equity,” received millions of taxpayer dollars for training college students in critical race theory at several higher educational institutions.

Good is not the only lawmaker raising concerns about progressive ideology in schools and introducing legislation.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., in July reintroduced the Protect Equality and Civics Education (PEACE) Act, a bill that would prevent tax dollars from promoting CRT within the Department of Education’s American history guidelines, which have increasingly incorporated those ideas.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has also introduced the Combating Racist Training in the Military Act as well as the Stop Critical Race Theory Act.

Good’s legislative effort has received support from several family and education groups.

“The Empowering Local Curriculum Act will end funding for schools promoting divisive ideologies like Critical Race theory that separate students into opposing categories of victims vs oppressors simply based on the color of their skin,” Terry Schilling, president of American Principles Project, said in a statement. “The Defending Students’ Civil Rights Act clarifies that position further by outlining how such a practice violates these children’s Civil Rights, an offense actionable by law. And finally, the Empowering Parents Act ensures that these children, their rights, and their innocence are being protected, not by a distant bureaucracy that can be bought out by well-funded organizations, but by those who have their best interests at heart: their parents.”

Matt Buckham, executive director for Institute for Educational Reform, backed the bills as well, calling out a recurring point of criticism: politicization of schools.

“Government teacher unions push the toxic political agenda of the Democratic party along with their radical lies through Critical Race Theory and woke ideology,” Buckman said in a statement.

Nicholas Lynn is the current owner of Montana Action Paintball in Kalispell. Lynn  built a new facility in 2020. Montana Action Paintball hopes to find an indoor space for foam-based weaponry battles or paintball using rubber paintballsduring bad weather.

The Fish Consumption Advisory Board has issued a consumption advisory on all fish species in the Yellowstone River from Indian Fort Fishing Access Site near Reed Point to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. That stretch of the river is near the site of the June 24 train derailment.

Stack Financial Management of Whitefish was ranked No. 72 in the 2023 CNBC Financial Advisor 100. In assembling this list, CNBC considers the firm’s number of years in business, compliance record, number of investment advisors registered, and assets under management. Stack Financial Management manages over $1.8 billion in assets for individuals and businesses across the U.S.

Blackfoot Communications, Missoula, announced the completion of a project to install over 380 miles of fiber optic cable on the Flathead Reservation in the St. Ignatius area. The project, begun in 2018, cost over $11 million. Nearly 1,000 locations throughout the St. Ignatius area are now served by high-speed fiber optic cable. The company is also building out fiber networks in Thompson Falls, Plains, Philipsburg and Georgetown Lake, with other areas in the planning phases.

The New York Times  published its annual list of its 50 most intriguing restaurants. Campione, located on Main Street in Livingston was on the list. Campione’s was the only eating establishment in Montana to make the list.

As a part of continued efforts to lower costs to reliable air service for rural communities, the U.S. government has secured $1,000,000 in funding for Billings to attract new air carriers and secure additional routes to the west coast. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Tester secured funds through the 2023 government funding bill. He was the only member of the Montana delegation to support the legislation.

Montana manufacturing will be in the spotlight until Oct. 24. Manufacturers, economic development organizations and educational partners will showcase industry innovations and inspire the next generation at events coordinated by Montana State University and collaborators. Manufacturing Day, also known this year as MFG Day, is a national event held annually to inspire the next generation of workers and industry leaders, improve people’s perception of manufacturing and build the workforce of the future.

At the recent annual convention of the North Dakota Dental Association a Williston-based dentist named Dr. Kami Dornfeld was announced as the association’s president for the next year.

Along with their son and daughter, the Horning family of Whitefish dedicates their craftsmanship to niche profession, custom hat making. Glacier Rim Hats is based out of the family’s home. From crepes to photography, the Horning’s have been in business since 2005.

Stylist Kae Briggs has opened a new salon in Choteau. “K’s Salon and Boutique” will offer services for hair and nails. The staff includes Briggs and Peggy Archer, who is a long-time stylist and the former owner of Archer’s Country Classics Hair Design.

Alpha Loading Systems in Stevensville celebrated an expansion of its plant that will triple its work force.. The company, created by Bitterroot Tool & Machine in 1999, is a manufacturer of ammunition loading and priming machinery. The company expanded to accommodate increased demand for their American-made machinery and ammunition.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deleted the Anaconda Co. Smelter site from Superfund’s National Priorities List. NPL site deletion helps communities move forward in reusing and redeveloping properties by making it clear that cleanup is complete.

The Finally Restaurant Group, announced the opening of its newest Rib & Chop House restaurant in Great Falls, which will hire upward of 100 people in the coming weeks. Burke Moran, is the owner and President of Finally Restaurant Group.

Chick-fil-A will debut on the campus of Montana State University. Currently, the Union Market in the Strand Union Building is under construction as they prepare to open the new franchise in spring 2024. According to the Culinary Services department, Chick-fil-A is still pursuing a new full location at 19th Avenue and I-90. 

Florence Crittenton Family Services in Helena has reopened its Youth Maternity Home having had to close during COVID restrictions and employee shortages.

In Park County a 3,360 square foot building in which to accommodate the Windrider Transit Facility has opened. The building includes two office spaces, an entry area, a driver /training  kitchenette area, janitor rooms and a ADA compliant bathroom. Five years ago, Park County started Windrider to provide fare-free fixed route services for county residents, including the elderly, disabled and youth who had no other means of transportation.

Gallatin Association of Realtors newly elected Director and Officers are:2024 President-Elect, Hattie Graham, Graham Realty; GAR Vice President, Mark Corner, Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties; 2024-2026 GAR Board of Directors: Tyler Garrison, ERA Landmark Real Estate, Jody Savage, Savage Real Estate Group, Kathleen Vaughn, Bozeman Real Estate Group.

An analysis found that 14.1% of workers in the Billings metro area are union members, compared to 10.1% of workers nationally. In 2022, the median wage for full-time union workers was $1,216 per week, compared to only $1,029 per week for full-time non-union workers.

The annual facelift of MSU’s “Rockin’ the M,” on the Bridger Mountain, took place as usual on Sept. 17, but more work is being done to shore up the landmark. Timbers needed to construct a retaining wall at the base of the “M” will be airlifted to the worksite by helicopter.

The Montana Highway Patrol commissioned nine new troopers at a graduation ceremony held Sept. 29 at the Civic Center in Helena. They came from as far away as California, Texas and Virginia.  Three of them are from Montana..

October is Montana Manufacturing month. Manufacturing Day is Oct. 6.

This is a time to be amazed. Few people fully realize the depth and breadth of manufacturing, the skills and outstanding production of people in the state. Almost every town in the Montana has some kind of manufacturing happening that sustains its economy.

The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) has announced that throughout the state manufacturers in many cities have events planned to spotlight what kind of manufacturing is happening in their own communities.

In Billings, October 12 has been declared Montana Manufacturing Career Day.  Wood’s Pow’r Grip and other manufacturers from all around the Billings area will be hosting tour groups for hundreds of local students, followed by a sponsored lunch and career fair for all students at the Billings Depot. For more information contact Katie Whitmoyer at Wood’s Powr-Grip ( or Lane Gobbs at MMEC ( for more information.

Also on October 24 in Billings the Montana Manufacturer of the Year Award will be presented at the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting during the “Oro y Plata” Business Awards.

The Kalispell Chamber has organized community, student, and job seeker tours of manufacturing facilities around the Flathead Valley from October 2 – 18. 

On October 5 in Missoula, MMEC and local members will be hosting Manufacturing Day in Missoula with facility tours in the morning for school groups.  In the afternoon there will be a Manufacturing Expo at Missoula College, where students and the public can visit the numerous local manufacturers in one place.

October 5 in Lewistown is MFG Day at Spika. Spika is expecting about 600 students from Lewistown Public Schools 2nd, 5th, 8th, and high school shop classes as well as other area schools to attend tours and STEM activities. The older kids will have a small welding project that they can take home, and the younger kids will do a STEM craft project. The Great Falls College welding program will be bringing down their welding simulator for everyone to practice on.

October 5 is Trades & Technologies Day at Highlands College. Highlands College hosts an open house” for students to tour the campus, see technology demonstrations, talk to instructors, and learn about programs of study. 

October 6 in Bozeman there will be MFG Day tours. Multiple manufacturing companies around the Gallatin Valley (West Paw, Towhaul, Spark R&D just to mention a few) plan to open their doors for facility tours for both student groups and the public.

Also in Bozeman on October 23 and 24 respectively, The Montana World Affairs Council will host EconoQuest and Photoni-CON.  Gallatin College will host Photoni-CON (a photonics and manufacturing expo) on the afternoon October 23 at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. 

Scot Chisholm developed what was to become Classy, a peer-to-peer crowd funding software platform. In 2020, Classy merged with GoFundMe, and Chisholm stepped down from his role as CEO to become a strategic advisor for the company. Since Chisholm has gained most of his CEO start-up experience through trial and error, he plans to pass on his knowledge  to other budding entrepreneurs.

An increase of West Nile virus activity was reported in the state. A positive infection has been reported in a Hill County horse. Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported the confirmed case, along with three confirmed human cases, in Dawson, Rosebud and Yellowstone counties, along with another case confirmed in a horse in Pondera County. All cases were hospitalized for their illnesses.

Belgrade’s Bootstrap Ranch, the sole facility in Montana that rehabs severely brain-injured adults, was forced to close last week. In May, the nonprofit’s board of directors decided that the Belgrade ranch would close by Aug. 15.The ranch had three hard-to-place clients who were finally placed by the facility.

According to Lee Enterprise newspapers NorthWestern Energy customers have come out strongly against the utility’s energy supply plan during the first three stops of a listening session tour with state utility regulators. Customers testifying in Helena and Great Falls and Billings told Montana’s Public Service Commission, that the state’s largest monopoly utility needed to pivot away from power plants burning coal and natural gas..

Two months after a railroad bridge collapse sent some carloads of oil products plunging into Montana’s Yellowstone River, the cleanup workers are gone. The railroad responsible, Montana Rail Link, in conjunction with federal and state officials has halted most cleanup work and stopped actively looking for contaminated sites. More than half of the 48,000 gallons (180,000 liters) of molten petroleum asphalt that spilled has been recovered. Downstream intakes for drinking water and irrigation reported no impacts.

The federal government will be taking over the security at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport on October 8. With heavy foot traffic, the airport has decided it’s time to restart its use of the Transportation Security Administration for airport security. Surpassing two million passengers in 2022, Bozeman Yellowstone has seen growth in traffic. The current staffing shortages have caused frustration with long lines and delays during security.

In 2004, the Forest Service petitioned for the OTO’s Dude Ranch listing on the National Register of Historic Places and, over the past few decades, the agency has poured money into making sure the buildings stay standing. Now dudes have come back to the OTO for the first time in over half a century. For the past two years, the Arizona-based True Ranch Collection has hosted a “pop-up” tourist ranch, with the proceeds going to the Forest Service. But the future of the OTO hangs in the balance as the pop-up ranch’s permit expired this year. Now, the Forest Service must decide what’s next for the iconic 3,263-acre property.

Ben and Madison Miller arrived in Sidney on January 2021, as Ben took a job as associate pastor of the Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church. Two and a half years later, Madison Miller was offered a job as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Boys and Girls Club of the MonDak. She started work on July 28. Originally from Tum Water, Washington, with a population of 30,000 Miller said it was a transition for them both. Miller is working with the former CEO who is staying on as a staff member in research and development.

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking a plan to build a water diversion pipeline in southwest Montana meant to aid Arctic grayling, a rare species of freshwater fish.

District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued the injunction this week in a lawsuit brought by Wilderness Watch and other environmental groups against the U.S. Fish & Wilderness Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The pipeline is meant to divert cold water to the indigenous fish population that’s dwindled in the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness area.

The Missoula-based Wilderness Watch argued the water diversion pipeline within the wilderness area is a “blatant violation of the Wilderness Act, which prohibits the agency from intentionally modifying Wilderness habitat.”

Molloy wrote in the injunction that “in light of the Wilderness Act’s strict requirements, the mere possibility that the proposed action may aid in Arctic grayling conservation is not enough to create necessity.”

Montana Trout Unlimited, a fish conservation group that supports the project, called the ruling “a blow to the grayling, the spirit of collaborative conservation and Wilderness character.”

“This delay and its proponents stand to have far greater negative impacts to this Wilderness ecosystem by risking the disappearance of one of the most unique and iconic species than the short and modest construction efforts implementing the project in a Wilderness area would entail,” the group said.

Construction workers remain a crucial component of the American workforce, and contribute significantly to the country’s economic development. To determine the locations with the most construction industry jobs, Construction Coverage calculated the percentage of total employment in the construction sector in Q4 2022, then ranked metros accordingly. The analysis found that 6.77% of jobs in the Billings metro area are in the construction industry, 1.5 percentage points higher than the national concentration. Over all, since the 2008 recession, the share of construction employment has since remained flat.

For the first time in years, drought figures have decreased across the board. This wet season has significantly lowered the chances of wildfires this year.

QuoteWizard, in analyzing drought data in at-risk wildfire states in advising wildfire insurance companies, determined that severe drought has decreased by 88% in Montana since 2022.

They have reported that, even with the decrease, 8 percent of Montana is experiencing a severe drought in 2023 and 29 percent of the state faces an extreme wildfire risk. The state is actually at the top of most-at-risk states for fires – followed by Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, California, Wyoming, Utah and Washington.

Nationally, drought area decreased for all of the states most at risk of a wildfire.

Their report stated, “More than 11.2 million properties were at risk of wildfires in 2022, and most wildfire-prone states are facing severe droughts. So far this year, nearly half of states that were previously experiencing severe drought dropped by 100%, including California. Montana is most at risk of wildfires, with 29% of the state facing extreme risk, even though its drought risk decreased by 88% since last year.”

By Manish Bhatt, Tax Foundation

(Editor’s Note: The Tax Foundation recently published a report on Montana’s new tax changes, explaining them and evaluating their potential effectiveness.)

Montana is renowned for its vast natural beauty and outdoor recreation, but the state also boasts a competitive tax climate, ranking fifth in our 2023 State Business Tax Climate Index. Like many other states, its coffers are overflowing, and lawmakers have rightly prioritized tax reform to share the strong revenue position with those calling the Treasure State home. Legislators should build on these efforts and provide sustainable and sound property tax relief.

Short- and Long-Term Tax Reforms

In 2023, Montanans will be eligible for tax refunds and rebates on income and property taxes.  Generally, one-time, or short-term, tax relief options are not efficient or effective and can exacerbate the negative effects of inflation. However, these measures were paired with long-term, pro-growth tax reforms that could boost the competitiveness of the state overall.

Montana’s seven individual income tax brackets will be consolidated into two in 2024. Previously, the top rate was set to drop to 6.5 percent (down from 6.75 percent), but Senate Bill 121 will reduce it further to 5.9 percent. The bill also raises the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 10 percent of the federal credit. House Bill 221 creates two rates (depending on income and filing status) for taxing capital gains—4.1 percent and 3.0 percent—replacing a 30 percent net long-term capital gains deduction set to take effect in 2024.

Businesses in Montana will benefit from House Bill 212, which raises the business property tax exemption from $300,000 to $1,000,000; this will eliminate 78 percent of current taxpayers from the rolls at a cost of a mere $9 million a year, absorbed by the state. Additionally, Senate Bill 124 revises corporate income tax apportionment from three-factor (double-weighted sales factor) to single sales factor beginning in 2025.

Principled Property Tax Relief Is Needed

Overall, these reforms are commendable and other states should follow the example Montana has set. However, like elsewhere in the Mountain West, Montana property owners are facing rising property values and, in turn, are saddled with greater property tax burdens. Property tax collections don’t need to keep pace with soaring property values because the cost—and value—of government services isn’t dependent on those values. While inflation has increased the cost of government, there’s no reason why a community where property values have increased by, say, 40 percent should have to remit 40 percent more in property taxes from that same set of properties. Residents are not receiving 40 percent more or better government for their money.

Ballot Initiative 2, now before the Supreme Court after an attorney general’s determination that the initiative is legally insufficient, seeks to limit property taxes through several provisions, including: (1) establishing 2019 as the base for real property valuations, (2) instituting a valuation assessment limit of two percent unless the real property is newly constructed, significantly improved, or changed ownership, and (3) limiting the amount of ad valorem tax that may be assessed to one percent of the real property’s value.

Despite the good intentions, this proposal is not sound tax policy and could create detrimental market distortion. Assessment limits are problematic because they incentivize property owners to remain in their homes longer, as purchasing a new residence triggers a new assessment and, potentially, higher taxes. This often disproportionately impacts younger or lower-income purchasers as the supply of starter homes is reduced when more established, higher-income property owners forgo new purchases.

Moreover, assessment limits could result in similar properties in the same neighborhood having dramatically different property tax obligations depending on purchase date—benefitting those with longer tenures in their homes and, effectively, penalizing more recent purchasers (many of them younger homeowners). Appraisal caps also disincentivize new construction and major home improvements, both of which could result in the owner paying higher property taxes.

The ballot initiative applies to many classes of real property, including multifamily rental units, but it excludes business machinery and equipment. To be clear, including rental property in the relief is positive because the tax burden is less likely to shift from single-family homeowners to lessees in the form of higher rent, which could occur if the measure was less neutral. While the legislature has raised the exemption limits for business property, it will be important to ensure that such equipment is not disproportionately impacted by higher levies in the future to recoup lost revenue from other property classes.

Assessment limitations provide property tax relief for homeowners, but they come with real costs, distorting housing markets to the detriment of many of the homeowners—and would-be homeowners—the limits purport to help. Fortunately, Montanans and their lawmakers have options. They could consider levy limits, which restrict the growth of revenue collections from property taxes, rolling back millages across the board to limit the amount that a jurisdiction’s property tax collections can increase from rises in assessed value alone. This can help avoid the disparities that result from assessment limits, lowering rates for everyone when collections rise due to a spike in assessed values, rather than protecting some homeowners to the detriment of others. If states like New York and Massachusetts manage to get this right, surely Montana can too.

Policymakers could also pursue what some states call “compression,” which is when the state uses its own funds to buy down local property tax rates. Simply capping rates, however, is not effective and would not protect property owners from valuation surges or from other policies intended to raise collections. And compression itself may backfire unless paired with levy limits; without them, local governments could pocket the state transfers and later raise millages back to where they had been previously.

Absent a special session, the Montana legislature next convenes in 2025, meaning taxpayers may have to wait for relief that is sorely needed today. This creates a precarious situation and one in which hasty decision-making could leave the state dealing with long-term negative outcomes. Ballot Initiative 2, regardless of whether it goes before voters, has a flawed design that homeowners may come to rue, but it speaks to a real and legitimate concern over rapidly rising property taxes. Policymakers should pursue principled property tax reform that benefits all property owners without creating market distortions or unfairly shifting the tax burden.

Competitive Enterprise Network

The Consumer Price Index ticked up slightly from June to July, but CEI Senior Economist Ryan Young explains why the true inflation problem was masked by falling energy prices.

“The overall inflation picture stayed about the same in July compared to June. The headline annual CPI number went up from 3.0 percent in June to 3.2 percent in July. The core CPI number, which gives a better picture of the monetary inflation the Fed bases its decisions on, improved slightly, from 4.8 percent to 4.7 percent.

“The biggest source of the difference between the overall and core CPI numbers is energy prices, which have fallen 12.5 percent over the last year. This fall is due to supply and demand, not the money supply, so it makes the overall CPI number look better than it really is. That is one reason why the headline number gives a poor picture of actual inflation.

“Both overall and core CPI remain well above the Fed’s 2 percent target and likely will for some time. The Fed’s next interest rate decision will be in September. There will be one more CPI release between now and then, so this month’s release won’t play that much a role in whether the Fed increases rates again this fall.”