Guest Column

The Next Battleground: The ‘Conservative’ Montana Legislature

Despite a looming $1.5 billion budget surplus we expect Gov. Gianforte will continue to squash any broad-based residential tax reform

By Laura Perry

We would like to apologize to the hundreds of thousands of Montana homeowners we have let down. In our naiveté we assumed those experiencing annual double digit tax increases would spontaneously volunteer and sign the Cap Montana Property Taxes petition. Wrong. An organization is needed to gather signatures, correct signatures, do IT work and raise funds to get the word out. Most people still do not know the effort to protect Montana homeowners/taxpayers even existed. We did have great volunteers, but in the end, our bank account never exceeded $1,100, and we were up against moneyed interests generating 10,000 fear mongering radio ads to stop any discussion of tax reform. A coalition of “Republican” (AKA the Conservative Solutions Caucus) and Democratic lobbyist’s organizations were joined by Gov. Greg Gianforte to protect “their” fair share of your money.

On day one we were stopped by a public employee union funded lawsuit. The judge improperly stopped us from gathering signatures while he contemplated if Constitutional Initiative 121 would have to be reviewed by a hostile legislative committee before we could engage in constitutionally protected speech. The secretary of state ruled, because a few words were not underlined on some signature sheets, she would inform county election personnel to not accept any signatures on the 20,000-plus distributed forms without underlining. With an average of two valid signatures per pamphlet that would have been two-thirds of what we needed. That also kept an additional 8,000 printed signature forms from being distributed. Various county election administrators refused to accept our signature affirmation sheets because they were not notarized. Some even argued how we could turn in signatures. Weeks of legal wrangling later they yielded to the plain wording of the law and signature gathering once again continued. Each time we were stopped/challenged, we lost volunteers.

We did not turn in non-underlined signature sheets. This will allow us to contact those people to jump start Round 3, if needed. No legislature has ever capped their capacity to tax homeowners. All limitations have been accomplished by taxpayers with government fighting back every step of the way. This shall not be an exception.

The fight moves to the coming legislature. Only a few legislators openly support broad based tax relief. Every member (R and D) of the Interim Revenue Committee expressed opposition to all but “highly targeted” micro-relief for a select few. We will try to get the legislature to pass a new constitutional initiative so that, without signature gathering, the people can have an in-depth discussion on if they should be taxed based on the cost of the plywood in their neighbor’s new home. Positive expectations are unfounded.

Broad based legislated tax reform on residential property is unlikely as Gianforte would have to sign it. Gianforte spewed the fear mongering message generated by his fellow “conservative” Solutions Caucus members and their lobbyists (Montana Chamber of Commerce members all). Pitting rural legislators against urban fiscally conservative legislators Gianforte incorrectly claimed that the tax rate paid by homeowners would automatically alter the production value tax calculation of ag land. He also said that capping the rate of increase for residential property would make it more difficult for ag families to transfer their land. Both claims are ludicrous. Despite a looming $1.5 billion budget surplus we expect Gov. Gianforte will continue to squash any broad-based residential tax reform. He used your property taxes to back fill local government for the $120 million tax break he gave on business equipment.

We are alone as we fight for our families, limited government, and our children’s future as homeowners. Keep your powder dry.

Laura Perry is a Bigfork realtor and member of Cap Montana Property Taxes.

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