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MRI Rally for HB177, March 8, 2001

Statement of Lieutenant Governor KARL OHS
At the MRI Rally for HB177
Noon, Capitol Rotunda
March 8, 2001

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Thank you for coming to Helena today. I appreciated the opportunity to speak to Marcia Watts and several others from MRI in a meeting before the rally. I am grateful to be invited to speak at this assembly.

First, let me say that Governor Martz and I appreciate the difficulties and hardships that MRI employees are now facing while being laid off. Governor Martz experienced it firsthand when her father was laid off at the mine in Butte when she was growing up.

This has been a difficult year for several Montana companies. The Governor and I have attended meetings for employees at ASARCO and Plum Creek where lay-offs or complete shutdowns were announced. Itís a very difficult and frustrating experience. Lay offs arenít ever deserved and itís never easy, not knowing if life will ever be the same again.

Now what can be done? There is a $170 million trust fund reserve for unemployment benefits. Thatís a lot of money if we were simply addressing the needs of one company, such as MRI. Extending benefits to 282 MRI workers would cost $1.9 million. Thatís only 1% of the reserves.

But if we add every other company in Montana who has faced similar lay-offs or shutdowns, we would trigger a tax increase on all employers and employees as soon as the reserves dropped by about $9 million. We know it wouldnít take long. All the businesses that currently remain open would take the hit. For those that are currently facing financial difficulties, it could be the hit that could knock them out of business.

Governor Martz and I were elected to govern the State of Montana, and we must treat all communities the same. We must not play favorites.

House Bill 177 would leave out Asarco employees, Smurfit Stone, oil refineries, American Timber and numerous other companyís employees who have been laid off in recent months.

Several other companies have made inquiries with our Department of Labor to find out more about unemployment benefits for their employees should they decide to lay off workers. The number of inquiries is a concern.

We approached House Bill 177 with the attitude that if we could extend unemployment benefits for all Montanans within the resources we have, we would support it. But we canít.

As difficult as it is for us to say ďnoĒ to House Bill 177, it is the only option that is right for the entire state. We cannot in good conscience provide special help to only one companyís employees and not to all the others. We cannot put other working people at risk by triggering a tax increase on them.

Our administration is very concerned about MRIís unemployed workers, your families and your community. I look forward to working with you to find ways to help.

Governor Martz is in Washington D.C this week testifying on behalf of our natural resource industries. Her efforts to bring more jobs to Montana in timber salvage on federal lands and in developing Otter Creek Tracts 1, 2, and 3 are significant. More good paying jobs for Montana, jobs that pay a wage that a family can live on, not just get by on, are a priority of this administration.


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