Saying the state’s pandemic recovery will take time, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney on Thursday unveiled an economic plan in his bid to become the state’s next governor, focusing on workforce training, keeping jobs in the state and empowering women in the workplace.
Standing above the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Cooney also noted the importance of the state’s recreation economy, along with his push to position Montana as a leader in the renewable energy industry and the jobs that come with it.
“We must ensure that Montana businesses have access to a pipeline of skilled workers for high-demand, good paying jobs,” Cooney said. “The renewable energy industry in Montana has so much potential. Montana has the opportunity to be a leader in the transition toward the clean energy economy.”
Under that proposal, the state would provide training grants to businesses that hire new workers in the renewable energy sector. As part of his Keep Montana Working Plan, Cooney would also expand the existing apprenticeship tax credit by $500 to businesses that hire apprentices who have lost their job to coronavirus.
“Montanans work hard an ask for very little – a roof over their head, a safe community, good schools, clean air and clean water, and good paying jobs to support their families,” Cooney said. “We take pride in what we do and we have a strong work ethic.”
Cooney said some portions of his plan would require approval by the Legislature while other elements would fall under the executive authority of the governor. He believes the plan has bipartisan support and would win Republican backing.
The proposal includes the Hire Montanans First Act, which would increase by 75% the portion of Montana workers required to fill state and local contracts. It would expand that requirement to all contracted projects, not just construction.
“The state of Montana, who is the state’s largest consumer of goods and services, ought to be supporting the Montana businesses that create Montana’s jobs,” Cooney added. “The Buy Made in Montana Act would require the state government to prefer Montana made products in its purchases.”
Taking a jab at his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, Cooney promoted an element of his work plan that would give preference to companies that don’t outsource jobs to other states and countries. It would also penalize companies that outsource more than 25% of their jobs overseas.
Gianforte has been widely accused for outsourcing jobs to cut labor costs when heading RightNow Technologies in Bozeman before it was sold to Oracle in 2012 for $1.5 billion. Gianforte released his own economic plan earlier this month.
“My opponent likes to talk a big game about job creation. But the fact of the matter is, his plan would cost Montana jobs and threaten to throw us off course on our road to recovery,” Cooney said. “He keeps talking about the jobs he created in Bozeman, but he fails to mention that his business was built on outsourcing American jobs.”
Cooney’s economic plan also looks to build opportunities in rural Montana by creating the Office of Rural Prosperity. That would prioritize economic development and job creation by streamlining certain policies that aid in rural improvement projects.
His economic plan would also work to empower women in workforce by pushing for equal pay, paid family leave, childcare incentives and early childhood education. That measure has support from women business owners.
“It’s 2020 and we’re still talking about equal pay for equal work,” said Whitney Williams, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and business owner. “It’s unacceptable that women in Montana make 77 cents for every dollar men make. That statistic has devastating consequences for women and their families throughout their life and throughout their retirement.”
Cooney also attacked Gianforte’s position on public lands and access to those lands. He defended his own position against one of Gianforte’s campaign commercials suggesting that Cooney “likes to spend money.”
“I’m a pretty cheap guy, just ask my wife,” he said. “While I’ve balanced the budget every single year I’ve served in office, (Gianforte) went to Washington D.C and voted to explode the federal deficit by more than $2 trillion. Multi-millionaires like him got a tax cut. The rest of us got saddled with a check.”