Issue Position: Economic Development
A state's economy has a direct impact on its residents, on their families, and on the success of their businesses, farms and ranches. Montana's economy has exhibited recent strength in several sectors, including mining, energy exploration and construction. In fact, Montana ranked among the top states in the nation for personal income growth from 2004 to 2005, but this growth has not been enjoyed by all. Like many areas of the country, Montana experienced tough economic times during much of the past twenty years. And that's why, as the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, it's my top priority to boost Montana's economy and bring more good-paying jobs to our state. Our economy is the foundation upon which our state rests and I'll continue to put principles over politics and do all that I can to continue strengthening our state's foundation.
By working together, we can stop the steady parade of Montana's best and brightest who are leaving to find jobs.
How I'm Working to Boost Our Economy
Last year, I took the lead on the 2005 Highway Bill that will bring more than $2 billion into Montana's economy and will help to sustain thousands of jobs in the state. I also crafted tax incentives in the Energy Bill to promote development of renewable energy, which has enormous potential in Montana. In 2004, I worked together with my Finance Committee counterpart, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), to write and pass a broad new tax cut for Montana's manufacturing companies. In writing the bill, I wanted to make sure it had the maximum benefit to Montana's economy. That's why I fought to expand the Jumpstart Our Business Strength (JOBS) Act to include permanent tax relief for timber companies, oil refineries, agriculture corporations and small businesses. I'm proud of our work together on this bill that provides Montana's and the nation's economies the shot in the arm that they need.
The only way to pull our economy up in national rankings is by working together. That's why I've held three separate statewide Montana Economic Development Summits that each attracted more than 1000 people. These meeting amongst the state's top economic development officials and business people helped lay the foundation for economic development planning in the state. We pulled the private sector together with government and community leaders to craft a new plan for the Big Sky state.
A strong elementary and secondary education system with partnerships throughout the community, especially the private sector, is the backbone of a healthy economy. That's why I'm working to build a stronger bridge between Montana's private sector and our schools and universities. Alan Greenspan once said, "We will be successful only to the extent that we cultivate, develop, and wisely deploy our intellectual capital. Education is everything." Building understanding and cooperation between those who create jobs and those who train Montanans for the jobs of the future is an important task that I don't take lightly. That's why I introduced a bill to improve incentives for businesses to partner with local schools and universities. My bill also provides funding for business training and development. I'm committed to working with my colleagues to pass this bill and improve our public/private partnerships.
Making America More Competitive
Today, America faces a world more integrated, more interdependent, and more intensely competitive than ever in our history. We face new competitors abroad, including China and India, and we face growing uncertainty as the world changes faster each day.
I've been working to make sure Montana and America face up to these challenges and succeed. To succeed tomorrow, I believe that we must invest in making America more competitive today. So I'm promoting a comprehensive competitiveness agenda for America.
Education is the foundation of a successful economy. My agenda will create scholarships and provide tax incentives for early education, science, math, and engineering teachers. It will provide matching funds to offer universal early education, double the number of advanced placement courses in our high schools, and make higher education accessible for all income levels. My agenda will support after school and mentoring programs, and restore our commitment to Indian education. It will create grants for outstanding young scientists, and encourage companies to get involved in making our schools the world's best.
Energy fuels a successful economy, but high costs are hurting America's competitiveness. My agenda looks to the future and creates the new Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy, to conduct transformative research and create alternative energy solutions. While this research looks for tomorrow's energy alternative, my agenda also encourages today's alternative energies like coal gasification technology, wind, and other alternative fuels.
Research and Experimentation are what America does best, but the rest of the world is catching up. My agenda simplifies and makes permanent the research and experimentation tax credit for innovators looking for tomorrow's next big thing. It also provides access to start-up capital for small, research-intensive businesses and encourages support of basic university research.
International Trade is vital to Montana's farmers, ranchers, and businessmen, but they must have a level global playing field. My agenda creates a Senate-confirmed trade enforcement official who is dedicated to guaranteeing our trading partners play by the rules. It also gives the Treasury Department the tools that keep countries from unfairly manipulating their currencies to keep their exports cheap.
Savings is important to Montana households and vital to a healthy economy. My agenda will give make it easier for workers to save by making payroll deduction retirement savings available, and provide working families with a government match. It will make it easier for small businesses, to offer savings plans to their employees and creates Young Saver's Accounts for parents' contributions to their children's savings.
Continuing Economic Development Efforts
Over the years, I've helped Montana businesses expand and we've worked to attract new companies to our state. I worked hard to bring DirecTV and its new call center to Missoula and the Centene claims processing center to Great Falls. My efforts continue to seek investment by major businesses in Montana.
Ninety-six percent of the world's consumers are outside the United States, and I've been working to introduce them to Montana's products. Over the past two years alone, I've led trade missions with Montanans to China, India, New Zealand, and Australia. Each trip reveals new opportunities and new markets for Montana business and agriculture. And I've worked hard to leverage resources to help Montana businesses take advantage of all of these opportunities.
I've brought ambassadors from more than ten countries to Montana to explore business opportunities. Introducing the world to Montana's economy ensures that we will remain competitive as the world grows smaller.
I had three rules at the first Economic Development Summit I organized, in 2001. These are rules I continue to live by in order to keep our momentum going and create good paying jobs:
First, No Politics. There's just no room for politics when it comes to Montana's economy. It's about working together and doing what's right for our economy. As the sign on my desk says, "Montana Comes First!"
Second, All Solutions Should be Private-Sector Driven. Private-public partnerships are key to providing the right environment to help our economy grow.
Third, Nothing's Off the Table. An open mind and outside-the-box thinking are essential in this new economy. I'll continue to work together to find new ways to create the jobs that will let our kids stay here to raise their families.
Nothing is more important to securing our nation's security and economy than maintaining our energy competitiveness. Our economy depends on clean, abundant, and affordable energy. Montana has a wealth of natural resources: wind, clean coal, and biofuels. We are truly the Treasure State, and I am proud of my work to unlock Montana's energy competitiveness.
In a time of record high energy prices, it is more important than ever to be good stewards of our resources. Energy efficiency helps keep Montana clean and lowers demand for energy, thereby, lowering energy prices. In the energy bill, I included tax incentives for homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. I also created a new personal tax credit for purchasers of hybrid vehicles. For example, a taxpayer can claim a $3,150 tax credit for the purchase of a hybrid, a vehicle that gets 60 miles per gallon. In Montana we are used to being good stewards. It is good for our environment, and it is good for the country's bottom line.