Trump economist credits Montana gains to president’s agenda; state says otherwise

Montana’s median household income grew 3.5 percent during President Donald Trump’s first year in office while those living below the poverty line decreased 2 percent, according to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Whether growth in the state’s economy over the past few years is due to the Trump administration’s agenda or efforts put in place years ago by Gov. Steve Bullock depends upon who you ask.

Kevin Hassett, chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, used a recent conference call with Montana policy makers to trace Montana’s economic gains to Trump’s agenda, including tax cuts and deregulation.

“Since January 2017, federal agencies have withdrawn or deleted a total of 2,253 regulatory actions,” Hassett said. “According to our estimates, that saved $33 million in regulatory costs. By contrast, during the first 21 months of the Obama administration, it enacted regulations that imposed $245 million in regulatory costs.”

Hassett said cutting regulations, coupled with new trade deals and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has helped fuel Montana’s economic growth.

The state’s unemployment rate has fallen below 3.6 percent, while unemployment insurance claims have dropped 26 percent, its lowest since 1973, according to Hassett.

“Household median income in Montana has grown 3.5 percent during the president’s first year in office to just north of $59,000 per person,” Hassett said. “That’s the highest level ever recorded in Montana.”

Hassett said the percent of Montana’s population living below the poverty line also decreased 2 percentage points during Trump’s first year in office, down to 9.7 percent.

“That’s the first time the poverty rate has been below 10 percent,” Hassett said.

But Ronja Abel, communications director for Gov. Bullock, said Montana’s economic gains began long before Trump took office, with many positive indicators dating back to 2012.

Montana has added nearly 30,000 jobs over the past five years while annual average wages have increased $1,000, Abel said.

“For over five years, Governor Bullock has fostered an economy in Montana that works for middle-class families, incentivizes business growth and entrepreneurship, and connects employees with employers in good-paying jobs,” Abel said.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, Montana ranked first for middle-class income growth from 2013 to 2016, and fourth for wage growth from 2007 to 2017.

Over the past five years, Abel said, more than 6,300 new business have been created in the state, and the Kaufmann Foundation has ranked Montana fourth for startup activity per capita.

Montana has added $3.1 billion in real GDP, growing the economy by over 8 percent since 2012, Abel said.

“(Bullock) is pleased Montana’s efforts to build a talented and trained workforce and build on educational opportunities from pre-K to apprenticeship are paying off for our state,” Abel said. “He hopes to continue to work with Republicans and Democrats to make sure all Montanans have the ability to get ahead and stay ahead.”