Bozeman – Why are the same people who get so exercised about out of state influence on Montana’s elections so uninterested in out of state influence on our livelihoods? Too many people who bemoan outside political spending seem to be just fine with out of state special interests and bureaucrats telling us how we can make a living, manage our lands and raise our families. Who’s watching over our right to pursue happiness and foster a legacy of opportunity for our kids and grandkids while special interests try to fence the state off as a playground for the rich and a petri dish for social and environmental special interests?
A rancher friend once told me he was going to live a pauper and die a millionaire. Much like him, Montana is land rich and cash poor because we’re not allowed to responsibly use our lands and resources for our own benefit. Even as we sit on unimaginable wealth above and below our beautiful landscapes, we have the second lowest wages per job on the nation.[i] We’ve been cut off from our wealth by people who either don’t understand or don’t care about the human toll of pressing their values on Montana families.
We all want and should welcome a sustainable and diverse economy; but industries that aren’t based on some underlying value can pack up and leave overnight. A sustainable economic base must leverage the things that are unique and lasting. In Montana those things are natural resources. You can’t harvest Montana timber in Indonesia, raise Montana wheat in Australia or pump Montana oil in Saudi Arabia. They’re what we have and businesses have to come here to get them. But we’re being increasingly cut off from what makes Montana the Treasure State.
Imagine if the federal government stepped in and outlawed gambling in Las Vegas, tanning in Florida, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Those are the local engines of economic growth. Businesses and families depend on those things to prosper and pursue happiness. But here in Montana we’re being cut off from our economic engine. It’s both unfair and unsustainable to have barriers erected by far away special interests and bureaucrats that seem to think that the families and lifestyles of those who live here are expendable.
They can do this because the federal government oversees so much of our land. Nearly 30 percent of Montana is controlled by the federal government.[ii] Getting access to those federal lands, whether through grazing, drilling, digging or harvesting is getting more and more difficult and expensive because of federal meddling in what used to be state responsibilities.
One recent example was a quietly passed Senate appropriations bill that imposes new inspection fees on oil and gas drillers, designates yet more wilderness, i.e. fenced off, lands in Montana and raises grazing fees on public lands. Combine that with new EPA and BLM regulations on fracking – a process that has resulted in exactly zero instance s of contamination in over 60 years[iii] – and you have effectively confiscated Montana’s greatest assets.
That same bill would provide another nearly $400 million dollars to take private land out of production, reducing the tax base that pays for our schools, driving our families off the land, and emptying Main Streets all across Montana.
Do we want to be one of the poorest states in the country forever? Do we want to stand by and watch as our kids leave in search of better lives? Our future as a state is older and poorer if we don’t act now and push back against the special interests that don’t care about the families they’re breaking up and the communities they’re killing off. We can responsibly develop our natural resources. We have the knowledge, the skills, and the technology to maintain a sustainable economic base to fund our schools and take care of those who fall on hard times. Do we have the will?