Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Be Grateful

If you’re lucky enough to get a federal tax break during this season of giving, be grateful — somebody pays for it

Good grief, it’s Thanksgiving and I’m traditionally required to write about stuff I’m grateful for like family, friends, and the bounty of winter squash the farm produced this growing season. Yet, I’m stuck talking about tax cuts. Argh.

It’s maddening, it’s infuriating and yet I feel compelled to drone on about boring stuff like how Congress’ tax-cut bills hurt the wallets of many homeowners in Montana.

Both chambers of Congress are embracing tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the largest corporations on the planet while doling out pennies on the dollar to Montana workers, small business owners, and fixed-income retirees.

If Congress insists on ignoring the national debt and giving locals back a trillion dollars of our tax money, put Montana at the top of that holiday wish list. Target relief toward our median households with incomes of $50,000. We’ll spend most savings on the local economy as Congress’ deficit hawks slumber.

As farmers, we’re used to hard work. Every day, it seems, we’re outdoors working the soil or now fixing stuff that broke throughout the past seasons. Stuff breaks all the time.

Farmers enjoy tax cuts. We’re just not seeing much from Congress that aids small farmers. The House even scrapped farmers’ co-op production and marketing deductions, making value-added manufacture more prohibitive.

These days, not many in Congress much care what locals think about anything. It would’ve clearly been easier and more productive to write about Thanksgiving gratitude. But we persist.

Earlier this month, I used Zillow’s app data to look at real estate listings for high property valuations areas like Flathead and Gallatin counties to see how many listing would be affected by the House’s 50 percent reduction in the mortgage interest deduction.   

In places like Bozeman, zip code 59715, a whopping 60 percent of the listings would lose out, in Whitefish 30 percent, and some one-third of the properties listed around Flathead Lake would be significantly affected by the House’s mortgage interest deduction loss.

These regions are likewise affected by the Senate bill, which removes property tax deductions from federal income tax returns.

There are plenty of amendments proposed and lots of lobbyist working Congress. Even campaign donors are likely speaking out.

Federal Election Commission reports indicate that these high valuation areas of our state are also where most of the itemized and year-to-date Montana campaign money originates, for Republican candidates for Senate like Matt Rosendale, Al Olswezski and Troy Downing.

One in five of the year-to-date itemized reelection dollars that Rep. Greg Gianforte raised in Montana originated from that Bozeman zip code where 60 percent of the listings were affected by the reduction in interest deductibility.

Most of Gianforte’s itemized Montana donors for the 2018 election live in high-property-valuation areas of the state like Bozeman, Whitefish, Bigfork and Kalispell.

Tax cuts before passing a federal budget is what the process demands. Yet state legislators finished their extended session work, fixing the budget deficit they created earlier this year by vastly underestimating the revenues flowing into Montana.

The governor proposed a new balanced budget fix that adds temporary tax increases on things like motel rooms and rental cars. The GOP countered with a new 2.75 percent tax on nonprofit health insurers as a way to help balance the Montana budget.

If you’re lucky enough to get a federal tax break during this season of giving, be grateful. Somebody pays for it.

Those paying may be students, grandkids, self-employed contractors, or Montana homeowners. Good grief it may even be our retired parents or grandparents through Medicare cuts.

Hopefully the Christmas tree that Montana delivered to D.C. adds some local spirit and values to national policy. Saint Nicholas wouldn’t just leave coal in the stockings of hardworking Montanans.

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