Friday, March 05, 2021

Governor hits the mark at State of the State

| January 31, 2021 12:00 AM

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte hit a refreshingly moderate tone in his first State of the State address Thursday night, centering his speech on Montana’s resiliency over the last year, and laying out his vision for the state in 2021.

The visuals throughout his 45-minute speech were at times striking. Gianforte, the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years, entered the House Chamber of the State Capitol wearing a mask, while many members of his own party opted to go without a face covering. In fact, it was the governor’s line about looking forward to the day “when we can all take off our masks, throw them in the trash and get on with our lives in a safe manner” that drew the most robust applause of the night. Yet he quickly followed by noting that in the meantime, he plans to continue to wear a mask and encourages all Montanans to do the same.

That moment seemed to capture the overall tenor of his speech. In a polarizing time with far too much “us against them” rhetoric, Gianforte aimed for the middle and hit the mark.

While much of his address focused on the pandemic and the state’s response, the businessman turned politician also spoke at length about his plan to boost the economy and improve Montana’s business climate through modest but meaningful tax reforms.

Notably, his budget proposes a reduction of the income tax rate for workers making more than $18,500 from 6.9% to 6.75%, which he promised to do without cutting services. Instead, his plan would make up the difference in revenue though corporate tax adjustments and finding efficiencies.

Simply put, his economic vision is to make the state more attractive to employers and put more dough into the wallets of most Montana workers, while maintaining current services. It’s hard to argue with that.

Gianforte hit on other bipartisan points as well, with plans to address the state’s meth epidemic and focus more resources on missing and killed Indigenous people. He also wants to bump Montana’s dismally low starting teacher salary, prioritize trades education though a new scholarship program, and make headway on forest proposals that would feed our mills and keep our communities safe from wildfires.

Now, it’s up to the Legislature to make these worthy initiatives happen.

Unfortunately, too much time in the first month of the session has been wasted on blatantly narrow, partisan fodder being pushed by the fringe.

Many of the priorities outlined in Gianforte’s speech should see broad support among the Republican-led Legislature. It’s time to get to work on the issues that matter most to most Montanans.