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"BIG Jobs Act" is now law; update on Montana unemployment rules

Governor signs "BIG Jobs Act" into law, and addresses Montana's unemployment issue
Golden Triangle Brew Company owner Brandon Roberts
State Rep. Josh Kassmier of Fort Benton
Posted at 8:34 AM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 10:44:33-04

FORT BENTON — Governor Greg Gianforte on Tuesday signed the “Business Investment Grows" (BIG Jobs Act) in front of the bill’s sponsor and Fort Benton business community leaders at Golden Triangle Brew Company.

The new law triples the exemption under the business equipment tax from $100,000 to up to $300,000.

“That’ll take about 3,500 businesses off the tax rolls in Montana,” Gianforte said. “Simplify the paperwork and give them more money to invest back to hire more employees, buy more equipment, expand and invest back in their businesses.”

State Rep. Josh Kassmier of Fort Benton, who worked to advance the legislation, believes it will benefit bottom lines in every county.

“Big for restaurants, breweries, farms and ranches around the state,” he said. “Construction, everything.”

Golden Triangle Brew Company owner Brandon Roberts says the change will help small businesses like theirs to rebound after a year of COVID.

“You're easing some of those financial burdens on businesses especially when you’re trying to reopen and normalize as best we can,” he said.

Gianforte told MTN News the exemption is part of Republicans’ overall plan to lower taxes in the state, saying lawmakers also delivered broad-based property tax relief, lowered personal income taxes, and made it easier for corporations that have people and property in the state to do business.

“We’ve lowered taxes in Montana about $120 million,” he said. “That’s money that businesses like Golden Triangle Brew Company can invest in more brewing equipment, more seeding or whatever it happens to be and it’ll ultimately create more jobs.”

Before stopping in Fort Benton, Gianforte also announced Montana would opt out of the federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits program by June and will offer one-time cash payments of $1,200 to unemployed residents that obtain employment and hold a job for four consecutive weeks (click here for details).

The two-step approach is meant to address a workforce shortage in the state. Money for the cash bonuses will come from the federal American Rescue Plan funds allocated to the state’s economic development.

“Speaking with small business owners there’s nothing more important than filling these open positions,” he said. “So we've allocated a portion about $15 million -- of the $2.7 billion -- specifically to help people get back to work.”

When asked if worker wages would become a focus for the Governor’s office after the one-time payments, Gianforte told MTN News that the issue is best left to business owners and individuals.

“Well, I think it's best if the market determines wages and that's a contract between employer and employee,” he said. “But as we come out of this pandemic we’re gonna shift incentives from staying home to getting back to work.”

Gianforte said that Montana will be the first state in the nation to fully opt-out of the federal unemployment benefit programs enacted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really attribute it to some of the innovation at the DLI (Department of Labor & Industry) and then we’re getting out that this is the only thing that small business owners are talking about right now,” he said. “They just can’t fill the 14,000 jobs we have open in Montana,” he said. “This is gonna help them do that.”