By Ron VandenBoom
Taxes, federal encroachment, the Montana Supreme Court and the over regulation of business were themes hammered home by Tom Keating at the Friday meeting of the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club.
Keating, a candidate for Lt. Governor in the Rob Natelson's gubernatorial bid, blasted government regulation and taxes as the primary reasons Montana ranks 47 in income and even lower in average wages.
"The reason state incomes are so low is because basic incomes have been destroyed, hindered, or impeded, and our tax structure has been an impediment to he creation of jobs.
Keating told the Pachyderms Montana's income taxes are the highest in the nation and held out little hope the state would be able to attract employees for high-tech industries when they could do better in other states.
"People who work in high-tech industries command $100,000 to $150,000 a year in salaries," Keating said. "Why should they come to Montana and pay $20,000 in income taxes when they can go to other states and pay less or no income tax and do the same job."
He noted that businesses too will be dissuaded from coming here if they can't attract labor.
He also accused the business equipment tax of impeding production expansion because it does nothing more than add to the cost of capital investment.
"Those taxes are a deterrent to anybody doing business," he said. "We have to get rid of it."
He pointed to Kalispell based Semi-Tool as an example of a Montana business that wanted to expand and provide 150-200 jobs.
But a 12 percent tax drove them to Bonners Ferry in Idaho where more people now work than in Montana, he said.
"And we could have had all of that in our state," Keating said.
Over regulation, according to Keating, has similar negative affects on Montana's economy.
"Particularly environmental regulations," Keating told the crowd.
"In the last 100 years the air and water hasn't changed very much," he said. "In spite of all the impediments that have been added to the statutes to slow down the permitting process and discourage anybody from doing anything in the state."
He noted that all businesses currently operating in the state have to abide by existing statutes concerning clean air and water.
"Nobody can do anything in this state unless they comply with those standards," he said.
The problem, he said, lies in the permitting process, adding that some businesses can expect to apply for as many as 15 permits ranging from waste dischsarge to trucking to air discharge before they can start doing business.
"And anyone can contest a permit with no liability to themselves," he said.
"Once contested the courts can take 90 - 180 days to approve a permit.
"Do that with each of 15 permits and companies will give up and go elsewhere before building in Montana," he said.
"It boggles my mind that people don't understand these kinds of things," he told the Pachyderms.
Federal encroachment also stifles economic development, he said, using the forest products industry as an example.
"Shutting down the forests to logging has added $2,000-$3,000 to the cost of a home," he said.
He told the Pachyderms that recently while serving in the Montana Legislature, executives of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) told his committee they needed more tax dollars for HUD homes because the cost of lumber made the homes too expensive for the poor.
"Lumber companies are forced out of business by liberal environmentalist and government regulations and the cost of lumber goes up," he said. "Then the same liberals that pushed through the environmental laws and voted for the regulations want Montana taxpayers to pay more because the poor can't find jobs or afford government homes."