Uncommon Ground

Provocative 2023

The fringe waited years for an ideological revolution to remake Montana in their own image, a promise of salvation to a select few

By Mike Jopek

Wow, what a year. Painful for many, joyful for some, and just dang intense for most of us. You see it on faces as locals endured the chaos and expense of living in one of the most magical valleys in the nation. 2023 was tough on locals. You know it. You lived it.

Montana housing proved exclusive over the past years. The state did little to help except mandate that locals have to build more everywhere, faster. Earlier the state outlawed local ordinances that required big development to include a small number of worker houses with the never-ending resort proposals.

Never mind how much traffic local roads might handle, lawmakers say. Build another sewer plant, they insist. All development fits everywhere, no local public hearings required, lawmakers tell us. State lawmakers don’t much care who pays for the infrastructure that supports the limited carrying capacities of local communities. This is Montana. There’s a new supermajority of sheriffs running the state.

Places like the Flathead and Gallatin topped state growth for decades. We’ve built more housing than most places in Montana. Prices continued to escalate rapidly. That’s the story of every fast growing and desirable place in Montana these days. Living got expensive.

The year started with the first supermajority in decades dominating control of the Montana Legislature. Lawmakers blew it bigtime on state property taxes. They increased homeowner taxes to historic levels. Boneheaded politicians knew it, ignored repeated warnings of a statewide land rush, and knowingly put homeowner’s extraordinary state property tax increase directly into the state budget.

Montana’s politician grinches booted one of every five kids off the children’s health insurance program. Only two states nationwide kicked more kids off public insurance. Montana wins some kind of meanness award. Someone, somewhere in hell is proud.

Locally, places like Whitefish and Kalispell are slowly and steadily making good progress getting workers into housing. There’s a long way to go, but people at city government levels are methodically helping, moving in the right direction. And those Habit for Humanity volunteers continue to swing their hammers, building homes in the valley while others incessantly argue about ideology and policy.

I’m grateful for people. Your kindness, generosity, and compassion to others. I like humans, the friends and local townspeople who make good stuff happen. You inspire me. You allow the dense fog of growth to subside enough to remind us of the stunning place we call home. Everyone loves this place, our homes, our communities. You make it so.

We’re still pig-biting mad that housing costs rose outrageously over the past years, how state lawmakers overcharged local homeowners hundreds of million of dollars extra in property taxes, and that the state booted tens of thousands of Montana kids off health insurance.

The state-level spite was avoidable. Lawmakers’ behavior doesn’t have to be callous, reckless. Supermajority lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing. It was no mistake. The fringe waited years for an ideological revolution to remake Montana in their own image, a promise of salvation to a select few. It’s a willful outcome and makes locals suffer. It must stop. It’s not fair.

Recent years proved cruel enough. Here’s to 2024 being easier, kinder and less expensive. Take time, find some joy in others. Let some of that familiar laughter again roll throughout our local communities and return the freedom to live life how we choose to our great state.

State lawmakers won’t do much to help in 2024. They’ll boast about this, that and make familiar promises on how they’ll rule the greatest state, a place we call home. Make 2024 as you wish, friends. Rekindle key relationships. Laugh, live, and love. Let others do the same. There’s room for all. 2024 belongs to us.

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