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Montana has made progress in recent years, but we need to continue to work hard this legislative session to shore up our economy and create good paying jobs across our state.

We know that in 2017, we’ll face some serious challenges. Weak oil and gas prices led to a drop in revenue, so money is tight. And unpredictability in the federal government threatens to reverse much of the progress we’ve made. At the same time, we are facing increasing needs for infrastructure improvements across the state.

Montana Democrats have a plan to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, sewer systems and community buildings. We are putting forward bills to address these needs and create good paying construction jobs in the process. These projects will ensure that we have the foundation to attract new businesses to Montana and keep our economy growing.

We also know that better education means a better economy down the road. In 2017, Montana Democrats are committed to crafting a responsible state budget that properly funds our public K-12 schools, supports our public safety workers, cares for our most vulnerable, protects good-paying jobs, and helps us train for the jobs of the future.

Montana Democrats have always fought for working and middle-class families, and we will continue to do so.

We’ll fight for a fair tax code in which everyone pays their fair share and hardworking families aren’t unjustly burdened. There’s no reason a millionaire should pay the same tax rate as a janitor or a nursing home attendant; but right now, that’s what our tax code says.

We’ll fight for legislation to provide equal pay for equal work, so women aren’t paid less than men for the same jobs. We’re working toward a system of paid leave, so workers don’t have to decide between earning a paycheck and taking time off to care for a sick loved one.

Our values mean keeping our air, land and water clean so future generations will continue to enjoy public access to our world-class outdoors.

We’re working to establish early education. Montana is one of just five states that does not support pre-Kindergarten education, which has proven to be one of the smartest investments a state can make. It would help free young families from the incredible costs of childcare, and give children the best chance to succeed in an ever-changing economy.

To craft laws and a budget that reflect our values requires compromise and a willingness in both parties to make tough decisions. It won’t work if one side digs in, issues ultimatums and insists it can’t be done.

In just the past few weeks, faced with a surprise threat of violence from mostly out-of-state white supremacists, Montanans across the political spectrum showed that we can come together. Democrats and Republicans let these agitators know that their un-American ideology is not welcome here. We made clear to the world: Hate is not a Montana value.

That hate movement, we hope, will fade away. But exercising our Montana values continues, and what we do at the Legislature will have lasting impact on our entire state. So as we make decisions over the next 90 days, we call on all lawmakers to remember what unites us, not what divides us. That’s how we’ll make Montana even greater — in 2017 and beyond.

– Rep. Jenny Eck and Sen. Jon Sesso

Rep. Jenny Eck is the House Minority Leader, and Sen. Jon Sesso is the Senate Minority Leader in the Montana Legislature.

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