MISSOULA — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Cooney on Thursday released his state economic plan, which includes requiring more Montana workers at companies that get public contracts, expanded rural broadband and training for renewable-energy jobs.
The plan, unveiled at a Missoula news conference with Whitney Williams, the Missoula businesswoman he defeated in the Democratic primary, also calls for more child-care funding, publicly funded preschool and an expanded tax credit for apprenticeship programs.
“As governor, I’ll make sure Montana businesses have the tools and resources they need to bounce back stronger and more resilient than ever, and create more good-paying jobs,” he said.
Cooney, the state’s lieutenant governor, is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for an open governor’s seat. A Libertarian and Green Party candidate also are in the race.
Gianforte, a Bozeman businessman, released his own economic blueprint for the state two weeks ago, dubbing it the “Montana comeback plan.”
Gianforte’s extensive plan called for peeling back unnecessary regulations, developing more oil, coal, gas and other natural resources and reforming what he called Montana’s “anti-competitive tax code,” by lowering income and property taxes.
Gianforte said his top priority would be bringing back the state’s economy from the Covid-19 crisis.
Cooney noted the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but said Montana’s economy under himself and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock was “strong and growing” before the pandemic led to widespread business closures and job losses.
He also told MTN News that he believes government can play a crucial role in helping the economy bounce back from tough times.
“For us to say government does not have a role to play, I think is just wrong-headed," he said. "Because government can work very well, and there’s a long record of government being a good partner when it comes to working with the private sector, working with the federal government, working with other partners in order to grow and expand the economy, and as governor I’m going to be doing that.”
Cooney’s plan includes:
· Proposing a “Hire Montanans First Act,” which would require companies getting state and other public contracts to have at least 75 percent of their workers from Montana.
· Creation of an Office of Rural Prosperity, which would streamline policies for creating jobs in rural Montana.
· Setting a target of 90 percent broadband Internet connectivity in all 56 counties, and working with Montana co-ops and other rural providers to finance fiber-optic cable installation.
· Expanding the state tax apprenticeship tax credit for businesses that hire people who lost their job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
· Increasing the workforce for renewable energy projects, by making it a priority in the state Workforce Training Grant program. Cooney said the state has an “incredible opportunity” to be a leader in renewable-energy development and the jobs that come with it.
His plan also included several proposals to help workers and families directly, such as paid family leave, equal pay for women and increased funding to develop more child-care businesses in the state.
Cooney said he’d direct the state to “be at the forefront” of offering paid family leave to workers who need to care for a new child or ill family member, with six to 16 weeks of leave – some of it paid, some of it not.