In a few short months places like Columbia Falls will decide what the next state Legislature does, how our hometowns fare, and whether the state Constitution is upended. Last year’s state Legislature demolished a lot of local control on issues like safety, health and housing. That was just a pregame warmup. They seek state control.
Compounding the session will be a $1.7 billion budget surplus. When I represented hometown people, we took a pragmatic approach to surpluses and saved some for a rainy day, invested some in people and small businesses, and returned some to property taxpayers.
The state budget in the Montana Legislature is controlled by a handful of members. That’s not news. State spending is a significant portion of any Legislature but other proposals will be harsh on hometown people living in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish.
Top of docket will be a sneaky land use proposal to limit or abolish the local control of subdivision review by cities across Montana. There’s no public bill draft. Yet listening to those who make the decisions it’s not hard to figure where we’re going. You won’t like it.
Municipalities across the Flathead are facing massive proposals for high density market-based housing, as if more $600,000 units with no lawns or garages will suddenly prompt worker affordability.
Nothing riles up existing homeowners like the prospect of years of heavy-equipment construction noises and fast traffic at all hours of the day, one week to the next, upending a previously rural lifestyle.
Many people have been at the public hearings offering written and live testimony to local planning boards and city councils. Some are apparently spending a lot of money to help find the facts of anticipated impacts associated with these very large-scale development projects immigrating to the valley.
The last state Legislature, led with the help of elected representatives from Kalispell and Columbia Falls, demolished the ability of local communities to enact ordinances that required big development to include a small portion of homes deeded affordable to people who work in the area. Montana now experiences a housing emergency. Ask any renter.
The next state Legislature might easily rewrite state laws to mandate approval of high-density development in our towns, absent previous local hearings or assurances of worker affordability. Permitted uses allow big projects built regardless of the dramatic impacts to local homeowners, roads, wastewater plants, or waterways.
They’ll take away local control, supplanting it with state control. They did it last time, they’ll do it next time. Only you stand in the way via November elections.
In my time in Helena, I saw many bad concepts floating throughout the state Capitol. I believe you need people in the state Legislature who understand their communities and work hard with local townspeople to assure everyone is free to seek happiness and live in their hometowns.
I’m still old-fashioned enough to want local elected officials making decisions about the livability of our hometowns, not the extremist who continue waging their ideological purity crusade upon our state Constitution in the Legislature.
Locals throughout the valley seek civility, reasonableness, and kindness. Locals want to protect our freedom to be able to live and work in our towns. It’s locals who vote and pay income taxes. It’s our kids who walk and bike to schools.
There’s plenty of promise to the next state Legislature. I’ve seen the good side of government. How, and whether you vote, predicts the future of local control in our hometowns and if extremists pursue their rewrite of the Montana Constitution.
There are several hardworking and smart candidates on the ballot with moderate, hometown values who prefer local control for our cities and school boards. Consider supporting them for the good of the places we call home.
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