How State Lawmakers Can Deliver on the Montana Mandate

How State Lawmakers Can Deliver on the Montana Mandate

Not all residents are thriving – opportunity abounds for many in high-growth areas like Missoula or Bozeman, while the reality for many other communities is “poverty, with a view.”

This article was originally published in December of 2020

Montana voters have long rejected the polarizing partisanship of national politics. But on Nov. 3, local ticket-splitters did something truly historic. They elected Republicans for every statewide and federal race, including the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years.

What do these results mean? They reveal a clear Montana mandate: voters demand a strong economic recovery.

Thankfully, state lawmakers have a historic opportunity to deliver.

Exit polling from CNN showed Montana voters valued one issue above all others: a thriving economy. When asked what issue was most important to their vote, respondents cited crime and safety (17%), health care policy (14%), coronavirus (14%) and racial inequality (8%), but none of those critical topics came close to the economy, which 33% of Montana voters pegged as their No. 1 issue.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The appeal of Montana’s frontier has contributed to our rapid growth in recent years. But not all residents are thriving — opportunity abounds for many in high-growth areas like Missoula or Bozeman, while the reality for many other communities is “poverty, with a view.” There is a growing division between those experiencing the benefits of growth and those left behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this trend. Thousands have been forced into economic uncertainty. At the same time, a property gold rush has brought affluent city dwellers seeking to escape life on the coasts, purchasing vacation homes site unseen.

These deep economic problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. For too long, powerful interests have used economic division to justify more government control, convincing our leaders to support more regulations, more taxes and more government favors.

Voters this November let those in power know they’ve had enough. Along with new leadership, Montana needs a fresh roadmap for economic growth. The Frontier Institute’s Montana Recovery Agenda aims to provide that path. Here are three key reforms that would show voters their elected officials are serious about the issues most important to them:

Limit the growth of government: Montana’s regulatory code has grown to almost 60,000 restrictions – making it the second-worst place in the Mountain West in terms of harmful regulations and red tape per capita. State spending has grown considerably faster than Montana’s economy over the last 20 years, leaving Montana taxpayers on the hook for a whopping $14.9 billion more in cumulative spending than if the state budget had simply grown on par with population and inflation. By reducing harmful regulations and limiting the growth of spending to what taxpayers can afford, Montana lawmakers can unleash economic growth.

Reform our broken health care system: Montanans already face some of the highest health care costs in the country. The pandemic made clear the biggest barrier in the way of affordable, quality health care for our communities is our broken health care system. By removing government barriers to free choice and empowering patients with control of their health decisions, Montana lawmakers can help lower costs and increase access to health care. Commonsense solutions include permanently authorizing Direct Primary Care memberships, which allow patients to contract directly with their doctors; repealing Soviet-style “certificate of need” laws that require all new health care facilities prove their necessity before opening; and permanently removing all restrictions on telemedicine that were waived during COVID-19.

Protect and strengthen public trust: Montana’s economic recovery depends on the success of public health efforts such as contact tracing to control the spread of COVID-19. But many residents won’t cooperate because they fear for their privacy. Our research shows that by cracking down on warrantless searches and mass surveillance, Montana lawmakers can rebuild public trust, making public health efforts more effective and economic recovery more stable.

Change is never easy. Lawmakers will need courage to tackle the biggest economic problems facing our state.

But if 2020 was any indication, voters will reward success at the ballot box.

This article was originally published in Lee Newspapers

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