Sunday, April 14, 2024

GOP strategy to help the housing crisis is to increase homeowner property taxes

| August 23, 2023 1:00 AM

Across western Montana, people are being squeezed out of their homes and communities by rising prices. Teaching positions go unfilled — and no one is applying to fill them because a $40k salary — the high end of starting teacher salaries in Montana, doesn’t afford a home, even if you’re lucky to find a house for sale in rural places like Seeley Lake.

The 2023 Montana GOP had a super-majority and a $2.9 billion surplus, thanks to federal democratic policies. Armed with power and money, the Montana GOP imposed a permanent tax increase on residential homes while cutting taxes for large corporations, shifting tax burdens to residential homes all across Montana.

The Montana GOP defended its property tax hikes by offering a one-time rebate for some but not all homeowners for taxes paid in 2022 and 2023. The rebate has significant problems. Unlike prior rebates under Governors Racicot and Schweitzer the rebate imposes an opt-in function. In addition, because of restrictions, only half of Montana’s homeowners are even eligible for the rebate. And the rebate does nothing to help renters. Renters make up a large share of the housing units in Montana, and will surely see the tax increase passed on to them.

Western Montana is facing huge population growth and increasing housing costs. For folks whose homes are valued at over $400,000, the temporary rebate doesn’t cover the permanent increase on your property taxes beginning this November. The 2023 median value of a home in Flathead, Gallatin, Madison, and Missoula counties is well north of that. The tiny band-aid of a temporary rebate does nothing to help.

Ryan Zinke’s “answer” is 50-year mortgages. A 50-year mortgage locks buyers into longer, higher debt, essentially guarantees the buyer will never actually own their home, and limits the equity they will obtain. Zinke’s pandering to corporate profits is nothing new, but be clear: Zinke’s “solution” does not help homeowners but ensures large corporate lenders make more money.

Montana is at the bottom of the pile of states using American Rescue Plan Act money for housing. In 2021 Governor Gianforte vetoed a bill to establish an affordable housing tax credit. In March of this year, the Montana GOP closed applications for emergency rental assistance from ARPA due to slow processing.

With a $2.9 billion surplus, the GOP could have funded shovel-ready projects in Western Montana right now. Instead, they are shoving permanent property tax hikes to the tune of $200 million per year on Montana homeowners.

In rural Montana, such as Drummond and Phillipsburg, businesses are eager to hire, and people want to move here for the good-paying jobs being offered in construction and other sectors. But the GOP taxed Granite County out of reach with its permanent tax hikes.

Ryan Zinke and his GOP pals have done nothing to grow the middle class, to raise salaries for police, firefighters, and teachers, to help public schools, or help provide childcare to working families. The Montana GOP wants a state where the people who serve and work in our communities can’t afford to live in them.

Let’s send them packing, and keep Montana for the main street businesses and working-class families who have made our state the wonderful place it is. Montana can be affordable for our middle class if we make that choice.

Monica Tranel was raised on a ranch in eastern Montana, is an Olympian, an attorney, and a candidate for Montana’s western Congressional District.