Southeastern Montana Development Corporation (SEMDC) recently hired additional staffing to assist the regional non-profit economic and community development, group. Amber Hert has joined SEMDC as the new Administrative Services Director and will be based in the Colstrip SEMDC Office. Her primary focus will be managing the day-to-day operations within the Colstrip office and directing the multiple SEMDC Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) Programs.

Jim Atchison, SEMDC Executive Director, noted that “We have been looking for the right person to lead our loan programs for the past 1.5 years.“  “We are very pleased to find Amber, who, with her experience, skills, and credibility, will certainly be an asset to SEMDC and our clients.”

Hert, a Colstrip native, brings over 10 years of financial services experience to the job and most recently managed a regional credit union. Hert will work closely with the SEMDC staff, the regional banking community, and small businesses within the nine-county RLF region. Besides working with loan clients to ensure stability, she will also market and grow the SEMDC RLF programs with the regional banking partners to strengthen collaborative efforts.

 “Even with COVID and labor shortages, we have seen a tremendous amount of interest and growth in the regional small business community in the past few years. We know that Hert will take our loan programs to the next level,” added Atchison.

SEMDC is a regional non-profit economic development group established in 1997 to stimulate and encourage economic activity in the four (4) Counties of Custer, Powder River, Rosebud, and Treasure.

Governor Greg Gianforte and Christy Clark, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, toured Montana Craft Malt to highlight how the operation promotes Montana’s high-quality ag products and expands value-added ag opportunities for Montana producers.  

 “As we work to strengthen our state’s number one industry, it’s critical we continue finding ways to help add value to our commodities, capture that premium, and return it to the rightful recipient – Montana producers,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Using locally-sourced ingredients, Montana Craft Malt helps add value to our commodities right here in Montana, while supporting Montana families with good-paying jobs.”

Montana Craft Malt produces 10,000 tonnes of malt annually and adds value to ag supply chains.

 Utilizing a state-of-the-art facility spanning more than 50,000 square feet on nine acres, Montana Craft Malt is strategically positioned at the intersection of two interstate highways and a railway spur to ensure the strength of their supply chain from Montana producers to consumers.

 “Montana Craft Malt is a shining example of value-added agriculture at work,” said Director Christy Clark. “By processing some of the finest Montana-grown barley into artisan malts that are then used in craft beers and spirits, Montana Craft Malt is bringing grain to glass full circle. I look forward to their continued success.”

 The Montana Department of Agriculture is focused on expanding value-added agriculture opportunities in the state. While Montana crops and livestock are already recognized for their superior quality throughout the world, and agriculture remains the backbone of Montana’s economy, the department is working to find innovative ways to add value to these raw commodities, to ensure that Montana can keep pace with a transforming agricultural industry and grow prosperity.    

Promoting value-added agriculture to strengthen the ag industry is a signature element of the governor’s Montana Comeback Plan.

According to the Tax Foundation, the latest IRS income tax data shows reported income and taxes paid increased in tax year 2019, the second year of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the last year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data demonstrates the U.S. individual income tax continues to be progressive, borne primarily by the highest income earners:

* In 2019, taxpayers filed 148.3 million tax returns, reported earning nearly $11.9 trillion in adjusted gross income, and paid $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes.

* The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 25.6 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).

* The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell to 20.1 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018. The top 1 percent’s share of federal individual income taxes paid fell to 38.8 percent from 40.1 percent.

* The top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.

* The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.8 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.2 percent).

* The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced average tax rates across income groups.

By John Ostlund

METRAPARK, a multi-use complex, shall serve the entertainment, trade, athletic, educational and agriculture needs of the Region by providing quality facilities, programs, and events with complete and efficient services to the economic benefit of the Region.

METRA’s budget consists of $2,115,000 of tax revenue and the balance of the $8,000,000 budget is mostly fees for services, rent and, user services like Star-Plex and the Stage-Hands union.

METRA generates 150 million dollars of economic activity into our community annually. With that 2.1 million dollar injection of tax monies, the Taxpayers investment is returned over 70 times to our economy. This includes our hotels, taverns, retailers, restaurants, gas stations, etc. That two million dollars in tax revenue keeps our users rent down, supports community events like our 4-H program, the Nile Fourth Grade Education Program, the Marines Toys for Tots Christmas program, Flakes-giving, the Spay and Neuter Clinics, Law Enforcement Training, Community Shelter in place and helps many more great non-profits who add value to our community. Monies very well spent.  Here are some of the questions I believe we need answers to before a change can be considered. These questions should have been answered at the start of the discussion about privatization.

What problems in METRA management specifically led the Commissioners to look for a private firm to manage METRA?

What are the Commissioners goals and objectives for a private management company?

Do the commissioners want to remove all taxpayer subsidies from METRA’s Budget?

Do the Commissioners then want to rebate those Taxes to our residents?

Is the Mission Statement still valid?

How do we handle non-profit businesses and what will a private operator charge them?

If nonprofits are to still get a reduced rental rate will the County Taxpayers still provide the subsidy?

Will 4H now have to pay fees appropriate to sustain their operation?

How will Toys for Tots, Flakes Giving, Spay and Neuter Clinics, Festival of Trees, Nile, Riverstone Health, High School Association, etc., rentals be funded?

Will community shelter remain available when a crisis calls for it?

Will private management charge all renters and promoters actual costs for setup, tear down, dirt in and out of the buildings, clean up, user services, standard move in and load out days for the set up of shows and tear down of their event? Most events require 2-4 days for setup and tear down. Our METRA staff is complimented daily on their excellent performance.

The big equipment is owned by the County. Will the private management company rent the equipment at a standard rate and provide maintenance for said equipment and a capitol fund to replace that equipment at appropriate cycles?

Will the taxpayers be responsible for the capitol costs and upkeep on the facility and grounds? The buildings and grounds are County owned. What kind of a bond will be required to insure the public that if this experiment fails the Taxpayers will not be left holding the bag?

Will bonding be in place to ensure the Taxpayer is protected?

What assurances do our food and beverage vendors have that their contracts and percentages will be honored?

The booking contract already signed with Oak View Group has no appropriate escape clause, only a material breach can cancel it. If things do not go as planned with the next contract, will the Commissioners require a 30-day notification of cancelation from either party in the contract?

My fellow Commissioners have said this will still provide local control. That statement can only be accurate if the local control is prepared to provide funding for each request for reduced costs.

The Chamber supports privatization without a complete analysis of both public and private options. Will the Chamber with Bed Tax Monies backfill the tax dollars now used to subsidize METRA and reduce costs for all of our users, 4H, State High School Association, Nile, Chase Hawks, Wrangler Team Roping and many other users that drive economic growth in our community?

This is a small start to the many questions I have about this process that I believe should have been researched and answered prior to issuing a Request for Qualification & Information for private management. This board has the cart before the horse continually as we ram forward with no goal-oriented direction. I continue to express my concern about the lack of groundwork done to make a wholesale change this big in the way we do business. I fail to understand the fear my colleagues have with commissioning a third party consultant to complete a thorough review of both options to insure the path we are headed down is indeed the correct one.

Our Taxpayers deserve to know the answers before any decision can be made on any management change or privatization effort.

Montana’s unemployment rate hit a new record low in December, dropping another 0.3 percentage points to end the year at 2.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of unemployed Montanans is at its lowest level since BLS began the data series in 1976.

Wallet Hub reports that Montana ranks four in the nation as states whose unemployment rates have bounced back the most. And, Montana ranks fifth among states with the lowest unemployment, based on Bureau of Labor data. It is among sixteen of the top 20 states reporting the most jobs recovered since COVID-related lockdowns began in March 2020 – all of which are led by Republican governors.

The State of Montana has not only recovered all jobs lost since the start of the pandemic, but also grown beyond that level, with 531,040 Montanans employed in December 2021 compared to 521,657 in March 2020.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte credits his Montana Comback Plan. He said, “After just one year, our Montana Comeback Plan is working. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s ever been, and more Montanans are working than ever before in our state’s history. With lower taxes and responsible, responsive government, our economy is going again, we’re open for business, and Montanans are back to work. Great work, Montana!”

The number of unemployed Montanans also dropped to a record low of 13,689, falling by 1,719 from November.

Montana’s total employment hit a record high in December at 531,040. Total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers, grew by 3,137 in December, the largest single month gain in 2021. Payroll employment also increased by 3,200 with strong job growth in retail.

Since Governor Gianforte was sworn in, total employment has grown by 20,568 jobs.

Montana’s labor force increased to 544,729 in December, the third highest level in the state’s history. The number of available workers in Montana’s labor force, a critical metric during the current labor shortage, increased by 1,418.

The unemployment rate for the U.S. dropped to 3.9%. Overall, 24 Republican-led states reported recovering at least two-thirds of their lost jobs by December 2021, according to BLS data.

The nine states reporting the greatest percentage gains in recovered jobs are all led by Republican governors, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In terms of percentage increases, Utah’s 142 percent was the highest, adding 200,000 jobs as of December 2021, surpassing the 140,000 coronavirus-related jobs it lost. The rest are Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. North Carolina, led by a Democratic governor, rounds out the top 10.

By sheer numbers, Texas reported the most jobs recovered – 1,542,000 by December 2021 – compared to the 1,452,600 jobs lost after March 2020.

Texas Greg Abbott credits Texas’ job growth to pro-growth economic policies, a predictable regulatory environment, and a young, growing, and diverse workforce.

Of the state’s job growth continuing to outperform the nation’s, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Month after month, the data continues to show that freedom first economic policies create jobs and keep our economy moving. Our new businesses and workforce growth show that Floridians have the opportunities they need to thrive. We will continue to lead the nation in economic growth because we value the individual freedoms of Floridians and protect the ability for our citizens to succeed.”

According to BLS data, 12 states set new unemployment rate lows (series began in 1976). They include Arkansas (3.1 percent), Georgia (2.6 percent), Idaho (2.4 percent), Indiana (2.7 percent), Kentucky (3.9 percent), Mississippi (4.5 percent), Montana (2.5 percent), Nebraska (1.7 percent), Oklahoma (2.3 percent), Utah (1.9 percent), West Virginia (3.7 percent), and Wisconsin (2.8 percent).

California and Nevada, both led by Democratic governors, had the highest unemployment rates of 6.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

Overall, Democrat-led states reported an average unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, higher than the national average of 3.9 percent and the 3.4 percent average of 27 Republican-led states was.

The outliers are Alaska and Texas, with the highest unemployment rates of Republican-led states of 5.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

According to Wallet Hub Nebraska, Utah, and Oklahoma are the rank above Montana as state’s whose unemployment has bounced back the most, and it ranks New York, California, New Jersey, Nevada and Hawaii as states that have bounced back the least.

The Billings metro area has one of the highest motor vehicle theft rates in the United States, reports Center Square. According to data from the FBI, among metro areas, Billings ranks ninth in the nation. There were 998 vehicle thefts in the metro area in 2020, or 543 for every 100,000 people – far higher than the motor vehicle theft rate nationwide of 246 per 100,000 people. Due in large part to the higher than average vehicle theft rate, the overall property crime rate in Billings also exceeds the comparable national rate. There were 3,472 property crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the metro area in 2020, compared to 1,958 per 100,000 nationwide. In general, motor vehicle theft is on the rise in the US. There were a total of 810,400 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, the most in over a decade.

Motor vehicle theft, one of the most serious offenses tracked by the FBI, is on the rise in the United States. There were a total of 810,400 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, the most in over a decade.

Motor vehicle theft can be either the theft or attempted theft of a vehicle, such as a car, truck, ATV, or motorcycle. Some experts attribute the rising rates of vehicle theft to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to vehicles sitting unattended and unused for longer than usual. Additionally, vehicle theft is often committed for monetary gain, and the pandemic sent unemployment soaring and left many Americans struggling financially.

While motorists nationwide now face a greater risk of vehicle theft than they have in many years, in some parts of the country, car owners are far more likely to be victims of car theft than in others.

The Billings metro area, located in Montana, has one of the highest motor vehicle theft rates in the United States. According to data from the FBI, there were 998 vehicle thefts in the metro area in 2020, or 543 for every 100,000 people – far higher than the motor vehicle theft rate nationwide of 246 per 100,000 people.

Motor vehicle theft – along with larceny and burglary – is one of three criminal offenses that comprise the property crime category. Due in large part to the higher than average vehicle theft rate, the overall property crime rate in the metro area also exceeds the comparable national rate. There were 3,472 property crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the metro area in 2020, compared to 1,958 per 100,000 nationwide.

All crime data used in this story is from the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report. Limited data was available in the 2020 UCR for areas in Alabama, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, though these states were not excluded from our analysis. Only metro areas for which the boundaries defined by the FBI match the boundaries defined by the U.S. Census Bureau were considered.

Newly released economic figures from the Commerce Department showed that the U.S. economy grew more than expected last quarter. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 6.9% in the last quarter of 2021, exceeding the experts’ predictions of 5.5 percent growth and far outpaced the previous quarter’s 2.3% increase.

“The acceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected an upturn in exports, accelerations in private inventory investment and PCE, and smaller decreases in residential fixed investment and federal government spending that were partly offset by a downturn in state and local government spending,” the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said. “Imports accelerated.”

Center Square reported that the increase in economic growth from October through December led to a healthy growth year in 2021, despite weaker growth earlier in the year.

“GDP growth dramatically outpaced forecasts made a year ago. Most forecasters expected the economy to grow 3 to 4 percent this year,” said Jason Furman, former advisor to President Barack Obama and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute. “Instead it has grown 5.5 percent. That is more than a percentage point faster than even the most optimistic forecast was expecting.” The federal agency said COVID-19 is still a significant factor affecting economic increase.“The increase in fourth quarter GDP reflected the continued economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fourth quarter, COVID-19 cases resulted in continued restrictions and disruptions in the operations of establishments in some parts of the country,” BEA said in its release of the numbers. “Government assistance payments in the form of forgivable loans to businesses, grants to state and local governments, and social benefits to households all decreased as provisions of several federal programs expired or tapered off.”

Governor Greg Gianforte has announced the appointment of Brett Linneweber to serve on the Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Yellowstone County. Linneweber fills the vacancy created by 13th Judicial District Judge Gregory Todd’s retirement.

Since 2014, Linneweber has served as Senior Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney, where the vast majority of his practice has been in criminal litigation.

“Brett Linneweber brings to the table years of experience as a county attorney where he’s managed some of the most urgent issues facing Yellowstone County,” Gov. Gianforte said.

Prior to serving in Yellowstone County, Linneweber practiced in Park County for 13 years, serving as Deputy Park County Attorney from 2001 to 2005 and Park County Attorney from 2005 to 2014.

Linneweber graduated from Montana State University with a B.A in Political Science in 1991, before earning his law degree at the University of Montana School of Law in 2000.

This fall, Governor Gianforte announced an advisory council of attorneys and community leaders in Yellowstone County to assist in reviewing qualified candidates to fill the district court vacancy in the Thirteenth Judicial District.

The governor concluded, “I’m grateful to each member of the advisory council for giving their time to review and recommend a highly-qualified nominee from within their community to serve the people of Yellowstone County.”

Linneweber will be sworn in to serve on the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District in January of 2022.

From Competitive Enterprise Institute

October’s inflation reading was the highest since the recession of 1991. November’s is the highest since the 1982 recession, at an annualized 6.8 percent. The reason inflation is usually highest during recessions is because governments attempt to restart growth through a combination of monetary and fiscal policy. It is troubling that today’s inflation is happening while the economy is growing and unemployment is low.

In fact, the misery index is now in double digits, which rarely happens outside of recessions. The misery index is the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate—economist Arthur Okun came up with it as an easy-to-use statistic for President Lyndon Johnson’s benefit, and it remained a key statistic throughout the stagflationary 1970s. It may be time to dust it off again.

While unemployment is a very low 4.2 percent, when combined with 6.8 percent inflation, the misery index currently stands at 11. For context, its all-time high was 21.9 in June 1980. It was below 5 for a good chunk of the 1950s, and was at 5.3 in April 2015.

Inflation happens when the money supply grows faster than the supply of goods and services, as I explained earlier. In today’s case, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large swathes of the economy for an extended period. Even if the money supply had remained stable, the supply of goods and services temporarily went down. The effects are still being felt in today’s supply chain problems.

But economic fundamentals remained healthy. There was no financial crisis or popped housing bubble. People hunkered down for a while, and are in the process of coming back. This is why COVID-era growth has bounced back in close tandem with increased vaccination rates and decreased caseloads. When people feel safe to open back up, they do—and nothing is stopping them except for bad public policy.

Both Congress and President Biden responded to a different type of recession with the same tools. The result is high inflation during a period of growth. The solution is to spend less and get money supply growth back in sync with growth in goods and services. Instead, Congress continues to spend at a record rate, with more likely on the way. The Fed has indicated that it will taper back monetary growth, but not until next year.

Policy makers are unlikely to do the right thing on the money side. But they can help the goods and services side by removing trade barriers, getting rid of unneeded occupational licenses, speeding up years-long permit processes, repealing the shipping cost-raising Jones Act, liberalizing trucking regulations, and other deregulatory measures. These would spark growth while helping to tame inflation—and without adding to the deficit.

The Bureau of Land Management has announced the correction of what it sees as having been an error of President Trump’s administration, according to the Center for Western Priorities. The agency is returning  to its Washington, DC headquarters.

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning will be based in Washington, along with the agency’s deputy directors and other leadership. Additionally, the agency will fill approximately 30 vacant positions in Washington, while establishing a Western headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The Center for Western Priorities’ Executive Director Jennifer Rokala stated: “Today’s announcement marks the end of an error. I’m encouraged to see the Bureau of Land Management moving so quickly to reverse the damage caused by the Trump administration and anti-public lands extremist William Perry Pendley. Our nation’s public lands need strong leadership at the table in Washington, so there’s not a minute to waste rebuilding the Bureau of Land Management at Interior headquarters. 

“America’s public lands are at the center of the fight to slow climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Protecting our lands for future generations will take a concerted and coordinated effort across the entire government, which is why the Bureau of Land Management’s leadership must be located in our nation’s capital.”