Tester: Banking bill protects rural states like Montana

by Missoulian, Senator Jon Tester

Recently the Senate accomplished a rare feat, a bipartisan victory that strengthens small businesses in Montana and across rural America.

It was years in the making and it wasn’t always easy, but something had to be done to loosen the overly burdensome regulations that are straining our Main Street businesses and local economies.

I proudly partnered with the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, to write the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. Our bill spurs economic growth by easing the regulatory strain on Montana’s community banks and credit unions.

The bottom line is our bill makes it easier for businesses and families to get the capital they need to expand their businesses, invest in new equipment and buy new homes.

After more than a week of debate, the Senate overwhelmingly passed my bipartisan bill, teeing up the biggest financial reforms in about a decade.

The problem is that since 2010, Montana’s small local lenders have been eaten up by bigger banks one-by-one. The rules that were meant to hold Wall Street accountable for tanking our economy trickled down to local community banks and credit unions in Montana.

Lenders in Great Falls, Havre and Laurel have been spending more time and money complying with regulations meant for the fat cats, which means that they are spending less time helping local businesses grow or young families purchase homes.

When Montana’s community banks and credit unions can’t keep up with the added costs of doing business they are forced to sell out to larger competitors, reducing competition and choice in rural America. This consolidation has hurt our farms, ranches, local businesses and regional industries.

We’ve seen consolidation as big grocery stores chains buy up the corner market. We’ve seen agribusinesses consolidate, which reduces competition in the marketplace and puts a strain on family farmers and ranchers. We can’t allow the same thing to happen with our community banks and credit unions because it is not good for capitalism and it is not good for rural America.

When the local community bank or credit union is bought out, the town loses the lender that knows its community best.

Our bill removes regulations for banks on Main Streets in Jordan, Glasgow, Billings and Kalispell while holding Wall Street banks accountable and increasing fraud protections for seniors, children and service members.

My bill doesn’t remove regulation for big Wall Street banks, but it ensures that Montana’s community banks and credit unions can continue serving their communities without the threat of being bought out or having to merge.

For too long, a lack of opportunity has forced our kids and grandkids to move away from home in order to launch their own careers. Quite frankly, if Montana loses our community banks and credit unions, businesses will close and our rural towns will shrivel up.

We had to act, and I proudly rolled up my sleeves and did what needed to be done to strengthen Montana, protect our rural way of life, and ensure the next generation can stay here and raise their families in the towns where they grew up.

There are some folks in New York, California and Massachusetts who aren’t happy with this bill because they want to protect the status quo. They just don’t understand rural America.

But I am wired differently, when I see a problem that is impacting Montana, I won’t stand on the sideline.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, is a farmer and the Montana’s senior U.S. senator.