Doug Lair made this presentation to the Montana State Legislature on January 8, 2011.
My name is Doug Lair. I live in Big Timber. My wife Mary and I have owned and operated a variety of businesses in Montana for nearly 30 years.
I’d like to thank the 2011 legislative body for making the time in your busy schedule to address concerns about what really sustains the economy of this state. My intention is to talk with this committee about what creates and continues prosperity.
After meeting with many small business owners and representatives of large business enterprises, I wondered how I was going to organize and clearly present the concerns expressed to me and how best to break them down by business sector. Then it occurred to me that there was a common theme from both small and large businesses. It is something you need to hear.
That theme is this: most business owners and representatives do not wish to appear in person and identify themselves publicly because they are afraid of retribution from government regulatory agencies. These regulatory agencies, and TAXES, are the chief causes of a poor business climate. What a shame. If that doesn’t point to an over-bearing government and over-regulation, I don’t know what does. When did government and its’ attendent bureaucracies stop being representative and start being proprietary? What area of business activity is not ‘regulated’ by one State bureaucracy or another?
Healthy commerce creates money, not federal printing presses. Montana is addicted to federal funding. Almost all of that funding has been used to grow government! It has been done at the expense of the private sector, which is the genuine and prudent source of wealth and prosperity. According to the Montana Policy Institute, the State takes in $1.47 for every dollar sent to Washington. And this imported federal money is an economic noose around the neck of our young people and those striving to run businesses. Why? Because that money is spent on more government, more bureaucracies, and more regulations. Take a look at the list of manuals and guidelines produced by the State of Montana to regulate various aspects of business and construction. Is it any wonder that the business world is reeling, the unemployment rate is near 10% and many Americans have given up hope of ever getting a job?
Perhaps you think I am speaking in broad generalities without any specifics that you act can on. That is not the case.
I hope you understand that I am taking a significant personal and financial risk by sharing a recent experience. Regulatory agencies and government bureaucracies do not take criticism lightly or without responding. My partners and I own a 25 acre parcel of commercial ground in Big Timber. It is located between I-90 and old Highway 10. When we began development 4 years ago we went through a painstaking and expensive process involving at least 12 state and federal agencies working together to deny our private property rights. They attempted to do this by enforcing a complex network of layered regulations. Keep in mind Big Timber modeled its planning process after Livingston and Bozeman. Bozeman is an ICLEI city. What is ICLEI? (click here to go to the ICLEI homepage) The acronym stands for International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Never heard of it you say? Who are they? This is how they define themselves:
“ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability is an association of over 1200 local government Members who are committed to sustainable development. Our Members come from 70 different countries and represent more than 569,885,000 people.”
Some of those people reside in Bozeman, Missoula and Helena-yes Helena because Missoula and Helena are also ICLEI cities by contractual agreement. Does that give you some idea of the depth and nature of the problem?
I hired a local consultant and legislator to help me navigate the complex myriad of regulations (you know who you are bless your heart). We agreed to a preliminary plat with the City of Big Timber and designed accordingly. Key to our development was the addition of a new culvert under old highway 10 to relieve our property of peak flow storm water run-off that would pool up at the highway berm on the lower end of our property. We needed more culvert capacity and additional suggestions and guidance from Montana Department of Transportation to meet design criteria. During the two and a half year process and a severe recession, we had a change of District Supervisors for the MDOT. Our new district supervisor unilaterally decided that we could NOT install our new culvert under Highway 10. We pointed out that such a decision would make our entire storm water runoff plan and lot design layout mostly useless. Their response; go back to the drawing board, re-run all of your water models, use different modeling methods, and make it work the way WE want it to work NOW. Their position is firm. Now we must spend thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars to re-design the project. (You know who you are, bless your heart.)
Government has become unresponsive and overbearing, period! It regulates or wants to regulate all aspects of education, business, fish and game, land use, transportation, agriculture, even the weather. And the regulation is often arbitrary. This conclusion is verified by my meetings with a significant cross section of Montana enterprises and it is also my personal experience as a Montana businessman. It is time to roll back the bureaucracies and make government help or get out of the way of Montana business – not the other way around.
Thank you for your time and I wish you success in defending our freedom to prosper.