Several local businesses are requesting tax abatements from Yellowstone County on their investment in new equipment. The abatements are for qualifying Class 8 Property – primarily manufacturing concerns that generate economic growth. A recent change in state law (SB 530) requires that county commissioners grant the abatement requests, with the only options available to them being whether to apply the abatement at the 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent.  The abatement is phased out over the next five years at which time the company pays the full property tax.

The County Commissioners approved a supplemental application for a tax abatement request from CHS. In January, the County Commissioners approved, at 80 percent, an initial property tax abatement request from CHS for manufacturing equipment totaling in value $38,872,419.88.

They have also approved, at 80 percent, an abatement request of Class 8 property from Phillips 66 on the investment of $7,459,311 of equipment.

The Commissioners also approved a tax abatement for Signal Peak Energy and Coca Cola are requesting abatements on new investments in their businesses.

Signal Peak Mine will receive a 80% abatement n $36,841,583 of manufacturing equipment located in Yellowstone County.

Coca Cola received an 80% tax abatement on $47,150,873 involving the construction of their new manufacturing plant.

By Kevin Bessler, The Center Square

Saying it’s too much, too soon, numerous groups are denouncing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced emission standards, with the Illinois Corn Growers Association being one of them.

On March 20, 2024, EPA announced a final rule, Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium-Duty Vehicles, that sets new, more protective standards to further reduce harmful air pollutant emissions from light-duty and medium-duty vehicles starting with model year 2027.  

The EPA said the new rules, which are less strict than what the agency proposed last year, will avert 7 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The standards announced today are a step forward for cleaner air and lower costs for drivers,” said Peter Huether, senior research associate with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “They will lead to the cleanest vehicles to date and help us meet the president’s climate pledges.” 

As EVs sit on car dealer lots, some companies are scaling back their electric offerings, including Ford and GM.

A new poll by The Center Square Voters’ Voice shows that nearly two-thirds of voters say the government is pushing EVs too hard because there is insufficient demand. 

Garrett Hawkins, vice president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said the rush by the government to convert to battery EVs would be devastating for the Illinois farming community.

“With this policy, we could have a 50% decrease in the price of corn, and with that you would have rural America and farmers not doing as well,” said Hawkins. “It’s going to be a direct hit to the Midwest.”.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his goal is to have 1 million EVs on Illinois roadways by the year 2030. State officials said there will need to be around 36,000 charging ports to support that number. 

Critics also point to the high cost of electric vehicles. The Rivian R1T EV pickup truck, manufactured in Normal, starts at $73,000.

“It is disappointing that the Biden Administration continues to be actively working against its stated goal of ‘equipping the American middle class to succeed,’” said David Holt, president of Consumer Energy Alliance. “While electric vehicles clearly have a role in our vehicle mix, the middle class cannot succeed with the EPA forcing an unworkable, expensive EV quota on working class families.” 

NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) filed an amicus brief in the case State of Texas v. President Joseph R. Biden at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. This case questions whether the President and Department of Labor (DOL) have authority to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors. NFIB’s brief argues that the lower court correctly decided that the DOL rule, Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors, exceeded the statutory authority delegated by Congress.

“At a time when small businesses are battling historic inflation and labor shortages, this decision will have economic consequences for many small business contractors,” said Beth Milito, Executive Director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Small business owners already strive to provide their employees with the highest wages and benefits they can afford. Mandating further increases to their operating costs will only make it harder for them to do so.”

NFIB’s brief argues two main points: 1) the Procurement Act is a limited Congressional delegation of legislative authority, and 2) the court must subject the rule to meaningful judicial review. NFIB filed the amicus brief with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The NFIB Small Business Legal Center protects the rights of small business owners in the nation’s courts. NFIB is currently active in more than 40 cases in federal and state courts across the country and in the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Casey Harper, The Center Square

Americans do not trust several major U.S. institutions, particularly the national news media.

The Center Square Voters’ Voice poll found that 43% of Americans say the media is trustworthy, compared with 54% who said it is not trustworthy.

Younger people were more likely to trust the media, with 47% of those ages 18-34 saying they trust it and 46% saying the opposite.

The numbers steadily worsen as likely voters get older, with 41% of likely voters 65-years-old and older saying they trust the media, compared to 57% who do not.

With the presidential election coming in November, the poll also asked voters how confident they feel about the following statement: “The media will report on the issues that matter most to you.” Only 42% said they were confident that was the case, while 54% said they were not confident.

When asked whether the “media will cover all candidates fairly,” only 31% were confident the media would do so while 65% were not confident.

Only 36% of likely voters were confident the “media will provide enough context for voters to understand their choices” while 60% were not.

Democrats were far more likely to trust the national news media, 63%-33%. Only 24% of Republicans said they trust the media while 73% do not. Independents agreed, 35%-59%, on the same question.

Republicans have been more skeptical of the media for years, but former President Donald Trump famously called the media “the enemy of the people” and “fake news,” making the relationship between Republicans and the media far more adversarial.

The mainstream media has taken fire for their coverage of Trump, for dismissing the Hunter Biden laptop story as Russian interference when time has proven the story as mostly true, and pushing the now largely debunked Trump-Russian collusion narrative, and more.

As for other U.S. institutions, notably, the poll found that Democratic voters do not trust the U.S. Supreme Court whereas Republicans do, and Independents are split. Overall, 56% of likely voters trust the court, while 40% do not.

The U.S. presidency saw a similar rating, but Congress fared much worse. The survey found that only 41% of likely voters trust the U.S. House of Representatives, compared to 54% who do not.

The U.S. Senate fared a bit better with 46% trusting and 50% not trusting.

American likely voters trust their state legislatures 59%-36%, according to the poll.

President Joe Biden’s new EV mandates will likely prove to be a sizable wealth transfer from rural red regions of America to urban blue sections, and to wealthy Democrats who reside in them, according to reports.

The Biden administration has imposed the “strictest” rules in history for the auto industry staring in 2027. On March 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its tailpipe emissions rules for the auto industry, which will effectively force carmakers to have one-third of new car sales be plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2027 and more than two-thirds by 2032.

The rule will likely prove to be “a sizable wealth transfer from rural red regions of America to urban blue sections, and to wealthy Democrats who reside in them,” according to reports.

News reports say that the new regulation represents a dramatic increase from current EV sales, which were about 8 percent of the new car market in 2023.

While environmentalists cheer, critics say that the measures will be particularly punitive for huge segments of the U.S. population who don’t want, can’t use, or can’t afford EVs. If carmakers go with the rules, the cost of remaining gas-fired cars and trucks will likely escalate as demand dwarfs supply.

Energy analyst, Robert Bryce, said, “In reality it’s a type of class warfare that will prevent low- and middle-income consumers from being able to afford new cars.”

As many traditional car buyers struggle, the federal subsidies and incentives continue to flow, to the benefit of EV buyers.

According to an October 2023 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, as much as $48,000 of the cost of the average EV sold in the United States is paid, not by the owner, but in the form of “socialized costs” that are spread out among taxpayers and electricity consumers over a 10-year period.

These socialized costs come in the form of taxes, government subsidies, fuel economy credits paid by gas carmakers to EV manufacturers, and higher electricity bills as consumers absorb the capital costs required to expand the power grid and install new charging stations.

The report states that “the average model year 2021 EV would cost $48,698 more to own over a 10-year period without $22 billion in government favors given to EV manufacturers and owners.”

These dollars, which do not take into account the additional dollars that gas-car owners will likely pay for their vehicles as manufacturers are forced to make fewer of them, amount to a government-mandated wealth transfer to affluent EV owners, paid by those who often cannot afford to buy EVs.

The new EPA mandate is “aimed at accommodating a very narrow segment of the auto-buying public: wealthy, white Democrats who live in a handful of liberal communities,” Mr. Bryce said. “EV ownership is largely defined by class, ideology, and geogaphy.”

Bryce reported in Epoch Times that 57 percent of EV owners earn more than $100,000 annually, 75 percent are male, and 87 percent are white. In addition, EV buyers are overwhelmingly Democrats, with 71 percent of Republicans stating in a Gallup poll that they would not consider owning an electric vehicle.

 Data from the Department of Energy supports this view. As of year-end 2022, California had 903,600 registered EVs in the state, or 37 percent of all EVs owned nationwide.

The next largest number of EV owners were in Florida, Texas, and Washington state, with 168,000, 149,000, and 104,100 EVs respectively, followed by New Jersey, New York, Georgia, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

According to a report by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, “if you count all the EVs in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Montana, and Idaho, they account for less than one percent of the total U.S. sales.”

In attempting to force Americans to switch to electric cars, a number of blue states including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington are on track to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035, according to non profit group Coltura, which advocates for the switch from gasoline to electric cars.

There are practical reasons why people are unwilling to spend thousands of dollars more on electric cars. According to a November 2023 AAA survey, the primary reasons for people not to buy electric cars are a lack of charging stations, limited range, and time to charge the battery.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that 65 percent of Americans surveyed don’t think they’re likely to make an EV their next automobile purchase.

Another poll of voters found that only 14 percent were strongly in favor of regulations to phase out gas-powered cars and trucks, while nearly 60 percent were against. Opinions split along party lines, with 53 of Democrats in favor of the EPA regulations and 76 percent of Republicans against, with 59 percent of independents also opposing.

The strongest support for EV mandates came from people earning more than $150,000 a year.

The Clean Freight Coalition, a trucking trade group that supports a transition away from fossil fuels, said that the timeline set by the new EPA rules was impossible to meet given current technology and infrastructure, and that the Biden administration’s EV plan would bring significant harm to commercial vehicle operators, the businesses they serve, and consumers.

Jim Mullen, Clean Freight Coalition executive director, told the Washington Examiner, “Today, these vehicles fail to meet the operational demands of many motor carrier operations, reduce the payload of trucks, and thereby require more trucks to haul the same amount of freight, and lack sufficient charging and alternative fueling infrastructure to support adoption.”

The reliably pro-Democrat United Auto Workers Union (UAW) initially opposed the EPA mandate, fearing lost jobs due to the fact that EVs require fewer American workers to assemble components that often originate in China and that many of the new EV assembly plants being built by carmakers are in non-union states like Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

The UAW came around to supporting the EV plan, however, after the EPA adjusted its regulations to slow the pace of the transition.

The Biden administration’s barrage of climate-related energy and automotive mandates, critics say, fall into a category of what a recent report by the Cato Institute calls “policy beyond capability.”

Yellowstone County Commissioners have sent Senator Jon Tester a letter asking him to support a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging them not to implement a request from California to require zero-emissions from railroad locomotives.

The letter states that the waiver being requested by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is unaffordable by many railroad companies and it would force more freight traffic onto roads. And, further, the technology that would be necessary to meet the mandate does not exist.

 The waiver being requested would allow California and any other states to require zero-emission railroad locomotives by 2030. “The CARB regulation would limit the useful life of over 25,000 locomotives by barring those 23 years and older from operating in California. This policy ignores the operational reality that locomotives are long-term and capital –intensive investments that travel not just in one state but across the 140,000 –mile North American rail network. Small railroads cannot simply replace these locomotives and may face bankruptcy if the rule is approved. In addition, CARB would require railroads to deposit as much as $800 million per year per railroad into “spending accounts” that could only be used to purchase zero –emission equipment.”

The commissioners point out that those same passenger and freight railroads serve Montana and connect farmers and miners to west coast customers and they would be forced to comply with the same  mandate to serve those customers.

“One of the main economic responsibilities of the federal government is to facilitate interstate commerce and economic cooperation. It is for this very reason that interstate commerce laws preempt state laws. Please support and join the Manchin/Ricketts letter in the Senate that requests the EPA reject the CARB waiver.”

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

In fiscal 2022, 70 percent of the largest cities in the U.S. did not have enough money to pay their bills.

In the latest comprehensive analysis of the fiscal health of the 75 most populous cities in the U.S., 53 did not have enough money to pay all of their bills, according to a Truth in Accounting analysis of the latest annual comprehensive financial reports from 2022.

In its eighth annual Financial State of the Cities report, TIA found that the 75 largest cities in the U.S. had $307.4 billion worth of assets available to pay bills but their debt, including unfunded retirement benefit promises, totaled $595.3 billion.

Pension and healthcare debt accounted for the majority of debt owed, according to the analysis. Pension debt totaled $175.9 billion; other post-employment benefits (OPEB), mainly retiree health care, totaled $135.2 billion.

All 75 cities are required by law to have balanced budgets. For those with debt, in order to claim their budgets were balanced, TIA argues elected officials didn’t include all government costs in budget calculations, thereby pushing costs onto future taxpayers. Instead, they used “accounting tricks,” including “inflating revenue assumptions, counting borrowed money as income, understating the true costs of government, and delaying the payment of current bills until the start of the next fiscal year so they aren’t included in the budget calculations.”

“The most common accounting trick” used to understate costs is excluding “true compensation costs” of employee benefits like health care, life insurance, and pensions, the report explains.

“While pension and other post-employment costs, such as health care, will not be paid until the employees retire, they still represent current compensation costs earned and incurred throughout their tenure.” Cities should include these contributions in their budgets, TIA says.

TIA also found that some elected officials “have used portions of the money owed to pension and OPEB funds to keep taxes low and pay for politically popular programs. Instead of funding promised benefits now, politicians have charged them to future taxpayers” to appear to have a balanced budget while city debt increases, TIA said.

Some of the financial woes can be attributed to the market value of pensions, the report explains.

“In 2022, the cities continued to receive and spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, they took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by increases in their pension liabilities, which were caused in large part due to decreases in the market value of pension investments,” the report states. “Over the past few years, investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022, this volatility negatively impacted most cities’ pension investments and their financial condition, which demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when cities offer defined pension benefits to their employees.”

To show how taxpayers are impacted by cities not having enough money to pay their bills, TIA divides the amount of revenue needed to cover unpaid costs by the estimated number of taxpayers. This calculates “a taxpayer burden.” When cities have funds left over after paying their bills, TIA divides the amount by the estimated number of taxpayers to calculate “a taxpayer surplus.”

Cities are also graded according to their fiscal health, taxpayer burden or surplus, balanced budget requirements, and other factors.

Of the 75 cities evaluated, only 1% received an A grade for fiscal health. The majority received D grades, followed by C and B grades, according to the analysis.

The five cities with the greatest surpluses were Washington, D.C. ($10,700), Irvine, California ($6,100), Plano, Texas ($5,100), Lincoln, Nebraska ($4,100), and Oklahoma City ($2,900). Rounding out the top ten with greatest surpluses were Aurora, Colorado; Fresno, California; Raleigh, North Carolina; Virginia Beach and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Of 22 cities reporting surpluses, the majority, six, were in California.

Of the 10 cities with the greatest taxpayer burden, nine are run by Democrats. New York City has the greatest taxpayer burden (-$61,800), followed by Chicago (-$42,900), Honolulu (-$24,200), Philadelphia (-$20,400), Portland (-$20,100), New Orleans (-$18,200), Miami (-$15,500), Milwaukee (-$15,300), Baltimore (-$14,100), and Pittsburgh (-$13,000).

New York City, which has historically ranked as the worst for fiscal health, attributed much of its financial woes to “COVID-19,” mentioning it 38 times in its financial report, according to the analysis. “Despite receiving $6.5 billion in COVID relief grants and a $1.3 billion increase in tax revenues,” TIA points out that New York City still needed $6.1 billion to pay its bills.

TIA notes that cities not properly funding pension and retiree health care promises “burdens future taxpayers and puts retirees at risk of not receiving promised benefits.”

A new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute tallies the huge and growing cost federal regulations impose on American businesses and families – $1.939 trillion annually – and offers a set of reforms aimed at making our government more accountable.

“Rules made by federal agencies impose a cost of government that extends well beyond what Washington taxes,” said Wayne Crews, author of Ten Thousand Commandments: A Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State. “Federal environmental, safety and health, social, and economic regulations grip the economy, making it needlessly harder and more expensive to run a household or business in this country.”

Exacerbating the problem is the more recent “whole of government” mandate initiated by the Biden administration that directs federal agencies to prioritize progressive political goals, like “equity” and climate change, unrelated to and on top of the agency mission set by Congress.

“Congress should start preparing now for substantial reforms to wrangle regulations back under control and put Congress back in charge,” said Crews.

The report urges the 118th Congress to begin now to lay the groundwork for specific reforms to:

* Vote on rules – Require congressional approval of significant or controversial agency rules before they become binding.

* Stop crisis policymaking – Pass an Abuse of Crisis Prevention Act to prevent abuse of “emergency” declarations.

* Cut the unnecessary – Identify which federal agencies or programs to eliminate or at least shrink their budgets.

* Exercise oversight – Launch hearings on the proper watchdog role of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in reviewing the costs and benefits of proposed regulations;

* Require assessment – Prevent the current and future administrations from weakening a longtime requirement that the White House Office of Management and Budget assess the economic impact of new regulations;

* Require report cards – Require annual regulatory transparency report cards that help the public find out important information, like which agencies failed to track their costs-versus-benefits to society.

* Sunset rules – Pass legislation requiring an expiration date so rules don’t just exist in perpetuity for no reason.

* Empower a commission – Set up a regulatory reduction commission to identify unneeded regulations to eliminate.

* Automate rejection – Creating an “Office of No” tasked with making a case against new and existing regulations.

Ostensibly, to help prevent financial crimes the US Department of the Treasury is demanding more information from thousands of businesses in the US.

As of January 1, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is requiring more information about companies considered to be reporting companies or limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, and businesses established through filings with the Secretary of State.   

Called the Corporate transparency Act (CTA) the new regulation claims the intention is to stop tax fraud, money laundering, and financing for terrorism by capturing more ownership information from US businesses and companies that operate in the US. Details that must be reported are business information, legal name, trademarks, and beneficial owner information.

Almost any kind of LLC will have to report, including farms and ranches organized as LLCs.

Existing companies have one year to file the report with FinCEN, and new companies are required to file within 90 days of creation or registration.  FinCEN has made a Small Entity Compliance Guide available to help small business navigate the reporting requirements. 

The IRS announced this fall that it is “staffing up” its enforcement operations. They are fast-tracking the hiring of more than 3,700 internal revenue agents across the country. It is the IRS’s second major hiring initiative under the Inflation Reduction Act, which gave the agency roughly $60 billion to rebuild its workforce and modernize over the next ten years.

This “staffing up” is a second one by the IRS, which launched one in early 2023, under authorization of the Inflation Reduction Act which approved the hiring of 80,000 IRS employees, and included funding to arm agents for the first time. About $45.6 billion of the $60 billion was earmarked for “enforcement.”

The IRS claims that the hiring will only replace some 52,000 employees expected to retire in the coming decade and will leave the agency with about the same number of employees (94,000) it had in 2010.

The push is on in Montana for four –day school weeks as Montana schools struggle to find staff amid a teacher shortage in the state. School Districts are finding that four-day weeks relieve the stress on over-burdened teachers who are employed, reduces absents, and the need for emergency authorizations. Last year 222 Montana Schools went to a four-day week, about a fourth of the state’s schools. The length of each school day is extended to meet state requirements. Part of Montana’s teacher shortage is attributed to the wages paid to teachers.

The National Education Association rans Montana last in the country when it comes to average starting teaching salaries. The average teacher salaries are also near the bottom compared to what’s paid nationally. With four day weeks having been first adopted by some schools since 2017, data is available to gauge impacts.

Math and reading proficiency has been seen to decline, but graduation rates have increased.  Costs for schools have declined, but short weeks have pose problems for parents in finding care for children or transportation to take advantage of other services provided through the schools, such as free lunch programs.