Job security, creation tops Tester’s list of priorities

The Great Falls Tribune

by Travis Coleman

Securing and creating jobs for Montanans is at the top of Sen. Jon Tester’s agenda this year.

Jobs took front and center during Tester’s meeting with the Tribune’s Editorial Board on Thursday.

Now a year after it was signed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had posi¬tive effects for Montanans, Tester said. The act included $500 million in tax breaks for Montanans and created jobs by bol¬stering the state’s infra¬structure, including several water projects. But Tester also understands there are areas of the state still hurting from job losses, such as western Montana.

“Without this (bill) … we’d be in worse shape,” Tester said. “It’s not perfect … overall it’s done a commendable job.”

Tester has been meeting with Montanans this week and talk¬ing about jobs. He’s holding a contractors workshop in Boze¬man today to help construction companies find work and build relationships with businesses.

Some companies tend to use the same contractors, and that isn’t always a wise use of stimu¬lus funds.

“They don’t fish too far from the boat,” Tester said of some companies.

A similar workshop held in Great Falls last year led to sever¬al contractors finding work, Tester said. More than 300 peo¬ple have signed up for the Boze¬man workshop.
On two issues, Tester said that “doing nothing is not acceptable at all.”

The first is health care reform. He said that if Congress attempts to address the problems piece¬meal, the system would continue to worsen.

The other issue where “doing nothing is not an option,” he said, regards his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which is currently in committee. He’s hopeful it can be passed by the end of the year.

He said he’s often asked “why even step into this fight.”

“Drive from here to Butte and you know there’s a problem,” Tester said, referring to the dead and dying trees in the state’s forests. “Nobody’s winning” right now, he said.

He said he hears from one side that wilderness bills are being passed for other states, so why not Montana? Conversely, he said, the “recreation folks are say¬ing they’re shut out of areas.”

His measure is a from-the¬ground- up attempt to address those issues and give the Forest Service another tool and to reduce litigation.

“Some folks don’t want a lot of trees cut,” Tester said.

As for Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg’s proposal to include “trigger language” in the bill to tie wilderness designation to prov¬able job creation, Tester said he’s talked with Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman and was told that such trigger language is a non-starter— that it would kill the bill. “This is something we need to do,” Tester said.

Tester also spoke on other top¬ics:

He was surprised that Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, retired earlier this month.

Tester said Congress is con¬sidering adding some campaign guidelines following a Supreme Court’s recent decision on corpo¬rate campaign contributions. One guideline would require a dis¬claimer to be run with ads to reveal who paid for them.

Tester said he has met with the Central Montana Defense Alliance about their concerns about the future of Malmstrom Air Force Base, but is waiting to see what happens with President Obama’s treaty talks with the Russians before moving forward.

As for his political future, Tester said he is planning on run¬ning for re-election in 2012. He’s got a lot invested in the job, he said, and the Senate runs on a seniority-based system.

Although he is only in the fourth year of his first term, he’s already moved up to No. 82 on the seniority list in the 100-mem¬ber Senate.

At one time Tester considered running for governor, he said, but that has passed.