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GOP must stop passing the buck on property tax hikes

There’s a lot of back-and-forth across the state right now about who is responsible for the property tax crisis that’s hitting homeowners in the wallet and making housing more expensive for all of us. Regardless of whether you own your home or rent it, skyrocketing property values in Montana are making it hard for all of us to find a place to live and afford to stay there. We’ve known that for a while now, and Gov. Greg Gianforte and the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature knew it too. They failed to act, plain and simple. Now, they’re trying to kick sand in the air to blind us to that fact. They had the power to protect Montanans from property tax hikes, but it wasn’t a priority for them.

There’s not a lot that unites “red” and “blue” counties in this state anymore, but one thing that has is their refusal to take the blame for the failures of Republicans in the state capitol. They’re refusing, county by county, to charge their taxpayers the higher amount that the state wants them to, so Gianforte is suing them. Regardless of where those lawsuits end up, it won’t actually fix the critical issue with property taxes.

The main problem with property taxes is that residential home values are rising much faster than other kinds of property, and the share of taxes borne by residential property is rising along with it. This just shifts the burdens away from big corporations and onto homeowners and renters. These property taxes aren’t paying for luxuries; they’re the main source of funding for hiring firefighters, staffing school classrooms, and plowing and paving our roads. But now, on the GOP’s watch, the burden for keeping those critical functions of our communities are breaking the backs of folks already struggling to make a living, all while giving a pass to the multimillion-dollar companies that are already making a buck off of us.

Democratic state legislators tried to get the GOP to act, but they voted us down every single time. We introduced bill after bill to restore some balance to this system that’s gotten out of whack. We proposed permanent property tax relief, targeted to working and middle-class folks who actually live in Montana, not out-of-staters or millionaires in mansions. Our proposals would have ensured that a family’s property taxes don’t increase faster than their household income. This would have helped Montanans who work in industries where wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with housing costs like property taxes. It would have helped seniors on fixed incomes. It would have helped folks living in areas where the interest in coming to Montana has forced prices to skyrocket. But the GOP wanted to cut some quick but insufficient checks, caring more about the next election than about Montana’s long-term future.

The Legislature and this governor could have also acted to shift some of the property tax burden off of residential property and onto the other dozen property tax categories to make sure that everyone’s share was manageable and fair. But they wouldn’t do that either, and some property tax payers are actually seeing their taxes go down, while the rest of us suffer.

Republicans rejected all of these solutions, and now Montanans are dealing with a completely avoidable mess that is entirely of Republican “leadership’s” own creation. The governor and legislative Republicans trying to shift blame to locals or talk about temporary, untargeted tax rebates might be good short-term politics, but it is a continued failure of leadership that Montana just can’t afford. Basic, critical services like fire, schools and roads shouldn’t be on the chopping block; protecting them should be non-negotiable.

Watching the crass politics and finger pointing from state Republicans is frustrating, but the policies that address these problems are already written and available. Democrats brought them during the session and we’re happy to help carry them across the finish line with whichever Republicans are interested in producing real results for Montana.

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Representatives Kim Abbott, Helena, Katie Sullivan, Missoula, Tyson Running Wolf, Browning, and Derek Harvey, Butte, lead the House Democratic Caucus in the Montana Legislature.

 

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