HELENA — A bill that would provide $1,000 and $2,000 tax credits to employers who hire apprentices and/or veterans received broad support Tuesday from people speaking to a state panel and also served a grim reminder that previous bills seeking the same in the past have failed.
House Bill 308, sponsored by Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, was part of a program proposed recently by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in his 2019 biennium budget. Officials said Tuesday it is one of two bills in Bullock’s Quality Jobs Plan to make it easier for businesses to grow, expand and create jobs for Montanans.
A long line of proponents spoke in support of the proposal, while no opponents came forward. Supporters included the Montana Chamber of Commerce, several unions and several veterans organizations.
The House Taxation Committee took no action after the hearing.
Schreiner said it was one of the first bills to look at the workforce shortage facing the state.
“I cannot stress enough this is one of the most pressing issues we need to address,” he said.
“I work with businesses around the state and all folks say the same thing: We need a trained workforce,” Schreiner said.
According to the fiscal note, the bill would cost $160,000 in fiscal year 2019, $147,000 in FY 2020 and $138,000 in FY 2021.
Schreiner said the funds are already included in the governor’s proposed budget.
He noted that previous attempts for similar bills from both sides of the aisle had failed.
“This needs to happen,” he said.
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, apprentices who completed their training had an average wage of $59,600 in 2015, which was $20,000 higher than the statewide average.
Pam Bucy, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry, said Montana is facing a workforce shortage over the next decade that will impact every business sector.
She said the state, which has the third oldest workforce in the country, could see an economic slowdown by not having enough people for jobs available.
Bucy said Montana can’t afford to wait two, four or six years to seek a solution.
“We need workers today,” she said.
Susan Wolff, dean of Great Falls College Montana State University, urged the committee to move the bill along.
“We do need to get people into these jobs and keep our local economy strong,” she said.
David Crum, executive director of the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation, said his board believes that the infusion of dollars to get students into the job market is a “great way to spend money.”
Several business owners, along with an apprentice, also spoke in favor of the bill.
Steve Harrness, general manager of DJs Electric in Hamilton, said he has people working for him who have never been to college and are making six-figure salaries.
Dexter Thiel of a roofing business in Sidney said it is possible to get a good job without a good education.
He said thousands of dollars into an apprenticeship program may be of more value than millions pumped into public education.
Thiel and others talking to the committee discussed ways in which to get more high schoolers and others involved in apprenticeship programs. They said there was not enough of that being done on the high school campus.
“There is a mindset in schools that apprenticeships are second rate,” said Rep. Alan Redfield, R-Livingston.
Chad Marks of Livingston said he has been part of an apprentice program after having served as a Marine overseas and been wounded.
He called the apprenticeship “a small investment that will pay off in the long run.”
Marks added he now has a home.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
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