Our town calls itself “the Most Livable Place” If you’re lucky, then that’s true. But if you are a part of the majority who barely get by, you’re rarely heard, work twice and hard, and have no representation in local government, it’s a different story. From wages, housing, and opportunity, to childcare, education, healthcare, and personal identity–nearly every aspect of life here causes us to battle over resources rather than banding together.
Childcare now costs more than tuition at MSU, and most can’t get it. Our state tax structure hurts the most vulnerable the more we grow. The aging are being priced out of their homes, and it’s now impossible for the young to be first time homeowners. Worse, the next 30 years will accelerate changes to our environment that will cut back our economy and stretch our resources to the breaking point. Something has to give.
Our local economy is a ticking time bomb. Already, locals are feeling the burden of rapid growth, and our state tax structure practically guarantees it disproportionally hurts the poor. Worse, the next three decades will test all our limits, bringing new norms in the form of wildfires, drought, and heat. Our outdoor industry will seriously suffer as we try to adapt to climate change, while needing to be a safe haven for those who come seeking refuge from coastal flooding.
The big idea
Let’s start preparing for the inevitable changes by creating an economy that’s equitable, diverse, and sustainable now, before emergency conditions force us to act fast, or prevent us from acting at all.
Things you should know
- Current minimum wage is only $8.50, but the living wage for anyone with a family is at least $20/hour. A third of Bozemanites make less than that, meaning they don’t have the option of having children responsibly1.
- Even a single person has to make almost twice the minimum wage to meet basic needs here.
- About 90% of recent tax increases in Bozeman are due to infrastructure like the new high school and the public safety center.
- Even though taxes are fairly low compared to the rest of the country ($600 per person to the City each year)2, our tax structure has made growth an enemy of getting ahead.
- 70% of families in Bozeman can’t get the childcare they need.
- 80% of the money made in the greater Yellowstone area comes from just two fragile areas: passive income (like retirement), and tourism 3.
- Montana is expected to lose 85,000 outdoor industry jobs in 30 years, which will seriously hurt our local economy 4.
- 1 in 2 households don’t make enough for a 2-bedroom apartment. It now takes the equivalent of 4 full time minimum wage jobs to do it5.
- 4 in 10 workers in Bozeman commute in. Many of these live outside of the city because they cannot afford to be here, meaning they have no say in the government that affects them most.
10 things we can do to make sure our local economy is efficient, equitable, and forward-thinking
1. A local tourism sales tax.
A 4% local sales tax aimed at tourism and luxury goods and services could bring in an estimated $7.5 million for the city6. In a worrying trend, the state legislature prevents citizens from choosing this in their own towns, something we must work harder to change.
2. A minimum wage tied to housing costs.
It’s irresponsible to ask people to work here if they can’t live here. The minimum wage was designed for a single person to support a family, but today it takes 4 full time minimum wage jobs just to afford a basic 2 bedroom apartment. I would set a living wage that’s 2% of the monthly median rent, which would guarantee that the biggest monthly expense–housing–is always affordable for our lowest-paid workers.
3. Create good jobs through investment in energy and public transit
It’s an imperative of survival that we transition away from fossil fuels. Even if the we don’t do enough globally to minimize the disastrous effects of climate change, we need to be prepared for the worst. That means providing as much of our resources locally as possible. A renewable energy mandate and creation of a world-class transit system would save everyone money in the long run and create high-paying jobs right away.
4. Tax incentives for sustainable manufacturing
With Bozeman’s biggest industries vulnerable to climate change and boomtown busts, we need new sources of high paying jobs that can carry us into the future. We also have a responsibility to move away from single-use plastics and good with short lifecycles that last hundreds of years in landfills. Sustainable manufacturing is a strong growth industry with serious potential, and a great fit for Bozeman.
5. Incentives and support for new business cooperatives
Business cooperatives build local wealth for those who need it most, reduce inequality, create meaningful, long-term jobs, and empower workers to participate in the management of their business7).
6. Replace property taxes with a phased-in tax on land value
As cities grow, the demand for land causes real estate prices to rise. In the 20th century, we dealt with this problem by growing outward–simply taking up more land. But that has its own problems, and we’re already seeing them in Bozeman: loss of wild spaces and farmland, rising costs of infrastructure, traffic, and longer commute times. Economists agree that phasing in a tax on the value of land (not buildings) is a great solution.
Since the tax only falls on the value of buildings, it protects retirees on fixed incomes, discourages land speculation, and eventually drives the price of land itself down to zero. This is a good thing for affordability and it’s fair: we all create the value of land by making our community desirable. Allowing a few to cash out on that value robs it from the rest of us. Now it’s our job to convince our state legislature to do the right thing.
7. Study the feasibility of local universal childcare.
While only 30% of families in Bozeman can even get childcare, it remains out of reach for most families’ budgets. Childcare workers are poorly paid and facilities struggle to stay open. Public education is highly successful because everyone needs it but few could pay the full amount when they use it. Expanding that model to include early childhood education would provide similar benefits to all families, regardless of income. Bozeman should consider this possibility in detail.
8. A local legal aid office focusing on labor and landlord-tenant issues
The vast majority of Bozeman residents will rent or work jobs in which they have little bargaining power at some point in their lives. It is in the interest of all of us to make sure they are treated fairly and honestly. Thought state law provides for labor and tenant protections, enforcement requires bring a civil lawsuit, an unrealistic and costly option for most. A local aid office could provide much-needed proactive advice for those moving into a new opportunity, and assistance for those who’ve been mistreated.
9. A public bank to save the city millions and expand access to banking
Besides its ability to provide much-needed credit for cities for infrastructure and downturn recovery, a public bank could save the City millions thanks to its unique ability to lend at low interest rates, and thousands more in bank fees.
10. Municipal broadband
Access to the internet is becoming as much an essential part of modern life as electricity or water. Many cannot get jobs or participate in public life without it. A municipal broadband program would pay for itself over time and provide cheaper access than private service providers.References
- From MIT’s Living Wage calculations for Gallatin County
- About $1,900/person in all property taxes for Gallatin Co. residents
- From an analysis by Headwaters Economics published in National Geographic, May 2016
- From a report by
- 2017 American Community Survey estimates
- Based on an estimated $30 million in revenue for a general sales tax, according to the MT Department of Revenue. 25% of local industry is tourism-related.
- For an extensive data-based review, see Shared Capitalism at Work:Employee Ownership, Proﬁt and Gain Sharing, and Broad-Based Stock Options, edited by Douglas L. Kruse, Richard B. Freeman, and Joseph R. Blasi (2010