Speaking of Property Taxes. . .
Montana is getting hit with a massive increase in property taxes. The finger pointing is already beginning. Republicans are quick to say it’s not their fault. Legislator Greg Hertz (R-Polson), chair of the Senate Tax Committee, has an editorial floating around the state pointing the finger at local governments and, ironically, the voters themselves. Hertz says that taxes are increasing because local mill levies have been approved to support things like schools, libraries, police, and fire protection. Shame on us citizens for supporting basic public services, which the legislature under Republican control since 2009 have consistently refused to fund.
What the Republicans don’t say is that everyone knew this was coming. Not because local levies are passing all over the state (they aren’t), but because property values have been increasing dramatically. Your property tax bill is determined by your property value multiplied by your property tax rate and multiplied again by local jurisdiction mills. Most communities have not increased mills and the property tax rate has not changed. However, in most communities, the value of property has gone up significantly. That is the driver behind these increases. But Hertz and Republicans are quick to blame the voters.
Another thing the Republicans are not mentioning is that state government has been choking local governments for years, refusing to allow them to raise funds to cover services. Nowhere is the consequence of this more apparent than Great Falls and the proposed safety levy. No matter what you think of the levy, most people agree that many basic services in Great Falls are underfunded. The chickens are coming home to roost, and the city is asking people to approve a huge property tax increase. Given this controversy, the odds of that mill levy passing have declined dramatically.
The Republicans are also failing to mention the fact that they started this legislative session with a $2.5 BILLION budget surplus thanks to the Biden administration’s COVID relief efforts. Montana Republicans claimed credit for the surplus and swept a big chunk off the table for income tax rebates, up to $2,500 for joint filers. They also gave a maximum of $500 property tax rebate. Clearly the Republican program favors the wealthy.
One time “tax rebates” are usually more about politics than tax policy. Both Governors Brian Schwietzer and Steve Bullock had rebate programs, though not as big as the Republicans this time around. But rebates don’t change the fact that Montana’s tax structure is out of whack and far too dependent on residential property tax while being generous to the wealthy and big businesses.
The best way to make our tax system better is to increase income taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. Despite the fact that Montana is a relatively poor state, ranked number 34 in median household income, we are ranked in the top five for our “business friendly” tax environment by the conservative Tax Foundation. Hmmm.
The current controversy over property taxes carries with it two very concerning items. First, Republicans have always promoted a general sales tax in Montana which only pushes more tax further down the income scale, forcing people with less money to assume more of the cost of government. Second, people’s frustration with the property tax system can lead them to support “caps” like Proposition 13 in California which has decimated public services. Such a measure failed to gather enough signatures here in Montana in 2022, but a similar measure has already been submitted to the Attorney General for the 2024 election.
Department of Revenue will be holding meetings across the state to discuss the property tax increases Find the schedule here: https://mtrevenue.gov/pad-town-halls/#local
Senator Theresa Manzella is no stranger to controversy, and although she lives in Hamilton, she’s no stranger to Great Falls. Manzella is the leader of the “Freedom Caucus,” an extremist group of Republican Representatives, including Great Falls Rep. Steven Galloway. Manzella has spent the past three years repeating the Big Lie- claiming the 2020 election was stolen. (https://montanafreepress.org/2022/01/25/republican-minority-presses-for-election-investigation-in-court-of-public-opinion/?fbclid=IwAR2GpI3RcyyyXgbP985DcKfCrji4sYNMYUg3tnmhvG1kAF2VHEzKAI88k14)
This delusion has been repeatedly disproven, but Manzella and the Great Falls Pachyderm Club haven’t changed their tune. Instead, Manzella continues to travel the state speaking with groups of MAGA Republicans. Known for her aggressive tactics and violent rhetoric, Manzella is a clear influence on Julie Bass and the election deniers that have taken over the Clerk and Recorders office. Jan Weenas, who has been volunteering in the Elections office, brought Manzella and her inane conspiracy to Great Falls in May 2022. We previously reported on Weenas history with election denial here: https://wtf406.com/2023/04/elections-update-things-just-got-worse/
Now Manzella is in the headlines again, this time for posting a meme showing a man being drug behind a horse with the text “Make Drag Shows Great Again.” There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly, the use of Trump slogans is no surprise. Manzella wholly embraces Trump ideology, parroting election integrity lies and promoting violence. Manzella tried to backtrack, claiming this was simply a “joke” about rodeo. Let’s ask the family of Matthew Shepherd if jokes about dragging gay people to death are funny. After a recent attempted murder of a trans person in Great Falls, I don’t find myself chuckling.
This isn’t the first time Manzella has promoted violence against the LGBTQ+ community. In 2021, Manzella spoke at political rallies stating that violence against LGBTQ+ people is a “consequence” for our existing in public. Manzella herself faced no consequences for using her platform to promote violence. In response to her most recent rhetoric, the Democratic Party released a statement condemning Manzella’s post. The Montana Human Rights Network has gone a step further with a petition calling for Manzella’s removal. You can sign that petition here: https://secure.everyaction.com/-vu7uB7kIE-U8cd7z6SosQ2?fbclid=IwAR0BN2b0qqRdNDP4FQv8EtTgGEJvRv1h9wMvHbxGAZ-s52dYCuoBSLZQr44
Manzella is a prime example of the intersection between bigotry and election denial. Manzella is but one in a string of extremist speakers brought to our city by Great Falls’ Republicans. As part of their 5 For 5 group, they also hosted Pastor Jordan Hall, a violent bigot who was later arrested for DUI charges, embezzling from his church, and violently assaulting his wife and children.
The same crowd that wants to purge all voter roles also loudly cheers violence against LGBTQ+ people. Give Manzella a microphone and she’ll claim election integrity with one breath, then call for the murder of Queer people with the next. Great Falls election deniers have wholly embraced the Manzella ideology- ignore facts, threaten the marginalized, and scream your lies with your whole chest. From Theresa Manzella to Julie Bass, the election denier crowd are a dangerously unhinged group of conspiracy theorists. Republicans are using Great Falls as a stage for the state’s most dangerous liars.
Read more about the Democrat’s response to Manzella here:
Read about Great Falls’ Republicans love for Jordan Hall here: https://wtf406.com/2022/08/republicans-support-disgraced-former-pastor/
Read about Manzella’s prior attacks on the LGBTQ+ community here:
See Manzella’s offensive post here:
The library mil election is over and the library won. That’s a good thing. Now Merchant’s supporters and some in the media are saying that it shows she is getting better at running elections. Don’t buy it.
Truth is the supporters of the library went to court because of their concerns about errors Merchant made in the month before the election. Some of the errors in the May school election included:
-Absentee ballots not being sent to certain voters in the school election.
-Failing to verify signatures before separating secrecy envelopes and ballots
-Turning voters away because voting registers were not available
-Ballots were folded improperly and didn’t fit in return envelopes
-Voters receiving absentee ballots which were not sealed
The library levy supporters went to court arguing that a similar pattern was emerging in the library levy election and asked the court to appoint a monitor to assure the library election was run correctly. The district court judge agreed and appointed Lynn Deroche, a former election department supervisor, to monitor Merchant and her employees and make regular reports to the court. Merchant and Cascade County resisted the appointment and had outside counsel to represent them in the proceeding, Then the county’s lawyer objected to correspondence from the library’s lawyers requiring another hearing before the judge. The court denied the objection.
When election day came, we did not see the same screw ups that characterized the school election and the special district elections which are now heading into litigation. Truth is the library election would not have gone as smoothly as it did had the monitor not been in the clerk and recorder’s office every day to make sure the rules and the law were followed. Not exactly what we consider a smooth election.
By Ken Toole:
NorthWestern Energy customers are about to get shocked with a huge increase in their electric rates if the Public Service Commission grants NorthWestern Energy’s request to increase residential rates. The public hearings are over and final legal briefs are being submitted. But, like a cancer waiting to metastasize, it has not gone away, and it will wreak havoc on the very people who can least afford it.
Don’t be fooled by efforts to minimize the impact of this rate case. Residential customers are facing a 28% increase in their rates compared to a year ago. And thanks to a “negotiated settlement” reached by the big guys (the utility, the state, and large customers) large users won’t see any increase at all. Bottom line this increase falls unfairly on small customers like you and me.
The average residential customer will have to come up with an additional $284 annually or more. Some people may be able to afford it. Some folks can go out and find another job to make ends meet but lots of people can’t do that…particularly Montana seniors. They will be choosing between paying their power bill, buying food, paying rent or purchasing medicine.
While we are waiting to hear how much residential rates will increase, large investors are buying up NorthWestern stock. On May 15 Market Beat reported that six “institutional investors” are increasing their holdings of NorthWestern stock. They are watching this rate case and they like what they see — for stockholders.
The corporate largesse doesn’t end with investors’ stock purchases. In 2022 NorthWestern CEO, Bob Rowe, received over $3.3 million in total compensation. Rowe, now retired, has been replaced by the former Chief Operations Officer, Brian Bird. In 2022 Bird made over $2.6 million. For comparison, Mark Johnson, the manager of the state’s largest electric co-op, makes a little over $450 thousand per year.
While you let that soak in, remember that large customers have cut a deal with NorthWestern Energy which lets them off the hook completely. They will be seeing no increase. We are talking about oil refineries, mining companies and large retailers, many of them owned by multinational corporations. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
So, all that stands between small customers and an expensive and unfair rate increase is the Montana Public Service Commission. They alone have the power to stop or adjust this rate increase. In addition to all five members belonging to the Republican Party with its long history of supporting big corporations, the PSC has been a dysfunctional circus sideshow, dominated by bickering and in fighting. Commissioner Bukacek was recently quoted in the Billings Gazette saying, “This historic unprecedented increase that people are talking about, it’s $25 to $30 a month. That’s the cost of three to four dozen eggs.” Seems like it’s no big deal to her. Of course, she makes over $100,000 per year and has a medical practice on the side.
But there is cause to think the PSC might do the right thing and reject the “settlement” being proposed by some of the players. Several of the commissioners have established that they are no friends of the utility companies. Those members may be able to bring along others to build a majority. But they all need to hear from residential customers here in Montana. Call, email, write a postcard, let the PSC know that people are concerned, and people are watching.
Why are these men smiling?