Supermajority Republicans grew Montana government and your raised taxes
| July 12, 2023 1:00 AM
Less government and lower taxes. You hear that political slogan from Republican candidates early and often while they are campaigning.
Then comes political reality. How did the largest percentage of Republicans elected in Montana history grow government at the fastest rate in state history – and at the same time raise property taxes on your home?
During the pandemic years, the Trump and Biden administrations poured federal funds into states to prop up slowing economies. Funds went directly to state governments and into businesses. Budget surpluses ballooned nationwide.
Montana normally receives about $1.59 of federal funds for each $1 paid in federal income tax, more than almost all other states. One-third of Montana’s state budget is federal funds. By the time our Legislature met in 2023, the state budget surplus had exploded to a record $2.6 billion.
A month and a half before the Legislature met, the Montana Revenue Department warned the Legislature and governor that home appraisals had increased by 43%, and unless they took action, home property taxes were going to rise substantially. Those who own their own homes and those who rent would shoulder those rising property tax costs.
The Legislature and governor worked 87 days on the budget, spending more new money than any Legislature in history – by far. They blew through the huge $2.6 billion surplus. They ate the thick steaks and drank the old whiskey provided by lobbyists and spent money on those lobbyists’ special interests. And then they raised taxes on your home!
They blew off the revenue department’s warning and did nothing to mitigate the oncoming rising property tax.
Now, Republican leadership is trying to spin their blunder. They claim it’s county commissioners and cities who are raising your taxes.
State law only allows local governments to raise spending by a small percent unless voted on by local voters. Since the Legislature met, not one county has voted to increase spending or raise your taxes (only Great Falls voted on a library initiative). The extra money went to the state and was transferred to special interests with lobbyists buying the steaks and whiskey.
They claim they will send you some one-time money to partially offset your permanent tax increase – giving you a 45-day window to file government forms to get some of your money back. Why must you file paperwork? The revenue department knows you own the home and where you live.
When I was governor and when Marc Racicot was governor, we mailed the one-time checks to homeowners. No bureaucratic paperwork required.
Trust me, taxes are complicated. Most of us (including me) don’t like thinking or talking about taxes. But, as your governor, I didn’t raise any taxes for eight years.
Let’s assume the Republican Legislature and governor just made a mistake by raising your property taxes. It’s not too late for the governor and Republican supermajority in control to do the right thing.
The fix is easy:
• Republican Legislative leaders and the governor need to call a press conference and admit they made a mistake in raising your property taxes.
• They need to work with the revenue department to craft a one-page bill (that’s all it takes) that would stop this property tax increase on homeowners.
• Call a one-day special session, pass the bill to stop the property tax increase and go home.
Pay more, what for?
Brian Schweitzer served as Montana governor from 2005–2013. He lives in Seeley Lake.