As the incoming Gianforte administration prepares a business plan to boost Montana’s economic prosperity a coalition of business and outdoor leaders have provided recommendations to assist the effort. Those recommendations include protecting the budgets of cash-strapped agencies who oversee public lands and wildlife and maintaining a newly established state revenue stream that would enhance public access.
According to the recommendations, less than 1.5% of all general tax revenue is available for the three state agencies who share responsibility for conserving and managing public lands. That means it will be important to protect this small slice of the pie during the upcoming 2021 legislative session says Christine Whitlatch, a founding member of the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project.
“It’s tough to trim if there’s no fat,” said Whitlatch. “We need to be really cautious about making unnecessary cuts to agencies that are already being challenged by growing demands for public access and outdoor opportunities in many parts of the state.”
Todd Buchanan, an Investment Advisor from Billings, says the state should lean into the power of the outdoor industry to help drive job growth and invest their resources wisely to facilitate that growth.
“As this administration looks to fuel new prosperity, we need look no further than the outdoor economy in terms of driving and attracting future jobs,” said Buchanan. “But getting a good return on investment here means investing in outdoor agencies and programs to alleviate growing pressures on our rivers, trails, and open spaces.”
The group also recommends the state maintain a recently created revenue stream from the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana. During Montana’s general election, voters passed 1-190 which allocated a portion of future revenue toward the Habitat Montana program, State parks, and a public trail grant program.
Bob Walker of the Montana Trails Coalition says this new revenue stream is consistent with past efforts by the Montana legislature to better fund outdoor opportunities.
“Last session the legislature passed SB 24, the most comprehensive bill to better fund our trails and parks in nearly three decades,” said Walker. “I’m hopeful we can continue this good work in 2021 by ensuring this new revenue stream is being used to improve outdoor opportunities and facilitate better public access.”
The new revenue stream is also consistent with a comprehensive state survey which the Montana Outdoor Heritage Project undertook in 2019. That survey found 86 percent of residents are in support of new stand-alone funding sources that protect wildlife habitat to improve public access and trail opportunities.