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Senator Jeff Welborn’s Weekly Review

HELENA:

The week started out with big news out of Colstrip, as

NorthWestern Energy and some of the West Coast Partners were

able to gain interest in Colstrip Units 3 and 4. The power plant,

the town, and most importantly the people—are crucial to

Montana’s future. Last Monday’s announcement is the best news

coming out of Colstrip in many years. We are excited and

encouraged about the future of Colstrip, its people, and Montana

energy production, we as both tax payers and energy ratepayers

will be better served with this certainty in the marketplace.



Moving along, I’d like to address A bill being heard in the Senate

that would keep corporate influences out of the official

administration of Montana’s elections.


Senate Bill 117 would prohibit state and local governments from

using outside money to conduct elections, instead requiring that

all election administration costs be paid for with public funds. SB

117 is sponsored by Sen. Shelley Vance, R-Belgrade, a former

Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder.


When I visited with Senator Vance, she told me, “This is a simple

bill,” “Montana’s elections are not for sale. Elections are decided

by the voting public and it’s not appropriate for anyone other than

the public to be funding the administration of elections.”



I also agree with Senator Vance that there is no room for even the

appearance of a corrupting influence or a tipping of the scales

when it comes to the official operations of our elections.

SB 117 establishes a felony penalty for violations of its provisions

keeping the official state administration of elections free of outside

influence.


Next, I’d like to address a pair of tax proposals moving forward.

Senate Bill 121 is a long-term tax relief bill of the 2023 legislative

session. SB 121 would cut the state’s income tax rate paid by

middle class Montanans from 6.5% to 5.9%, allowing Montanans

to keep more of their hard-earned money. The bill also increases

the Earned Income Tax Credit from 3% to 10%, providing a

refundable tax credit to lower and moderate income workers.


SB 121 is sponsored by Sen. Becky Beard, R-Elliston and is also

one of Governor Gianforte’s policy priorities.



Montanans are struggling to make ends meet and have been

paying more income taxes than the state needs to fund essential

services, this is a common sense approach to returning some

money back, simply by collecting less to begin with, I’d also

argue it’s giving Montanans same as a pay raise, by permanently

cutting the taxes they pay.


The second tax bill is Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Sen. Greg

Hertz, R-Polson. SB 124 simplifies Montana’s corporate taxes to

benefit Montana businesses.


This bill will help put Montana companies on a more even playing

field with companies based in other states, the big box stores and

non resident corporations to be precise, by moving to a single

sales factor on corporate taxes, we’ll be cutting taxes for many

Montana businesses and treat them the same as out-of-state



corporations, instead of our current system that penalizes home-

grown Montana companies.


I’d like to close out this week report with an update, as promised

on the skating at Bannack State Park, here’s what I’ve learned.

Normally the park operates with a manager, assistant manager,

ranger, and full-time maintenance person all winter. With the

resignation of the former Park Manager on November 30th and

only a half-time maintenance person currently on staff, the park is

down by 1.5 positions for the season. Given the amount of work it

takes to prepare the pond, maintain the pond, and patrol the ice-

skating, priority was given to keeping the visitor center open,

talking to visitors, and other administrative duties rather than

focus on the ice-skating.


The combination of being short-staffed and lack of a warming hut

led to the recommendation of pausing park-supported ice-skating

for the 2022-2023 season, with the intent to offer this activity

again for the 2023-2024 season. This closure has been put on

the park's answering message and a notice will be put on the

park's alerts and closure page.



In the meantime, I’m having a discussion with FWP about building

a warming hut, that would both benefit park guests, and answer a

liability concern of utilizing the existing equipment shed, when

folks skate in the absence of park employees. I will also be

working on this issue, as we discuss the FWP budget. With the

addition of a warming hut, and perhaps a partnership with

volunteers to backfill staffing shortages, until that gets resolved, I

feel we can keep the tradition alive.


Thanks for staying in touch, on issues important to you.

Please log in to leg.mt.gov to track bills, or testify remotely, or

email me at jeff.welborn@legmt.gov to communicate any thought

you may have.


Have a great week, and thanks for your time.

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