Gianforte Raised Your Property Taxes

Gianforte Raised Your Property Taxes

By Ryan Busse

Greg Gianforte raised your property taxes. And he did it deliberately, in order to give the wealthy and corporations huge tax cuts. That’s a simple truth that our governor doesn’t want you to hear, but it’s important for all Montanans to understand as we decide whether Gianforte deserves a second term.

Just last year, Gianforte and his supermajority in the Montana Legislature faced an important choice: Should they follow the recommendation from Gianforte’s own Department of Revenue, which suggested lowering the residential property tax rate from 1.35% to .94%in order to keep property taxes neutral — as previous Republican and Democratic governors have done? Or should they ignore that suggestion and bow to the lobbyists of wealthy corporations who pleaded for millions in tax cuts to bolster their profits?

Gianforte, of course, chose Option Two, walloping Montana homeowners and renters with the highest tax hike in state history so corporations could get their tax cuts. It hit the rest of us hard. The Gianforte Tax Hike is pinching Montana families at a time when our state is already facing a housing crisis.

Under Gianforte’s watch, Montana is the most expensive it’s ever been. And then he made it worse.

Only one Montanan — our governor — is ultimately responsible for raising property taxes. But that’s not what Gianforte wants you to believe. “It’s the counties’ fault,” he falsely claims. Or “city governments spend too much money,” he says. Those are lies. Just ask the countless elected Republican county commissioners and municipal leaders across our state who are furious that Gianforte is blaming them, willfully bearing false witness against his own neighbors.
Speaking of his neighbors, Gianforte is faring pretty well through his own tax hike, and that raises even more serious questions about whether he deserves a second term.

Public records show Gianforte’s next-door neighbors in Bozeman got slapped with a tax increase of nearly 71% in 2023, bringing their annual property taxes to over $11,680. But Gianforte’s mansion only got a tax increase of 19%, totaling $7,088. And it gets much, much worse.

Gianforte owns another mansion in Helena. According to a blistering investigation by MTN News, property taxes on every one of the 75 homes surrounding his privately owned mansion in Helena shot up dramatically. One of his neighbors got hit with a 62% tax hike. But what happened to Gianforte’s own property taxes? You guessed it. Somehow the tax bill on his Helena mansion went down nearly 7%. He gave himself a tax cut.

All of this is incredible but none of it is conjecture. It’s all easily verifiable with a few clicks on publicly available tax databases. And the governor hasn’t denied any of this. He refuses to answer questions about it.

Perhaps he believes it’s just his right to make things easier for wealthy people and harder for ordinary families. Perhaps he is proud of giving himself and his wealthy friends millions that could fund our public schools or provide tax relief to working people across this state.

Perhaps we should just take him at his word. After all, he warned us what his approach would be when he proclaimed, “the fairest tax is the one you pay and the one I don’t.”

One thing is for sure. As Montana faces another historic budget surplus, Greg Gianforte cannot be given another opportunity to make things even worse for the rest of us. He’s promised to stack the deck for people like him. We should believe him.

Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive, is a Democratic candidate for Montana governor.

Cascade County’s Tax and Spend Republicans (caution simple math ahead)

Cascade County’s Tax and Spend Republicans (caution simple math ahead)

Despite repeatedly claiming that they are “fiscal conservatives,” our property taxes have increased under Republican control at the state and local level over just the last couple of years. And not just a little bit.

Proponents of mill levies (here and elsewhere) routinely tell us the impact of their proposal is a relatively small amount on a given home. They also routinely provide examples of low value houses. For example, Rocket Homes estimates the average value of a home in Cascade County is $305,581, not the $200,000 value that is being used by promoters of the City of Great Falls Safety Levy. Here’s a statement from their web page: “The Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $280.11 a year for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.

County Safety Levy + $56.00 Per Year

Last November voters approved a County Safety Levy which was promoted by Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and the County Commissioners, majority Republicans. The proposal was for raising $2.46 million annually. The estimated impact of the County Safety Levy on a $300,000 house in Great Falls was $56.00 per year. (As an aside, Sheriff Slaughter got a 35% raise after the levy passed).
https://theelectricgf.com/2022/08/19/county-sending-2-46-public-safety-levy-to-november-ballot/.

Library Levy + $60.00 Per Year

Next up is the local library mill levy which passed this year. This levy added an estimated $60.00 per year to a $300,000 home. It’s important to note that $300,000 of the money from this levy did not go to the library and instead went to the city’s general fund.
https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2023/06/07/public-library-mill-levy-passes-by-52-to-48-margin/70297030007/

Great Falls City Safety Levy +420.00 Per Year If Passed

Next up is Commissioner Rick Tryon’s pet project, the City of Great Falls Safety Levy, which will be decided in November. This is from the Safety Levy website: “Great Falls residents will see an annual increase in their property taxes. When fully implemented, the Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $140.06 per year ($11.67 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000, and $280.11 per year ($23.34 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.“ Remember, the average cost of a home in Great Falls is over $300,000. If you use that value, the cost to an average homeowner will be more like $420.

Great Falls Safety Infrastructure Bond +$66.60 Per Year If Passed

But wait, there’s more. In addition, the City is proposing a bond election on the November ballot. The Electric describes the proposed bond election this way: “The bonds may be sold in one or more series, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed Twenty-One Million One Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand and No/100 Dollars ($21,175,000.00), bearing interest at rates to be determined at the time of the sale, payable semiannually over the term not to exceed twenty years for each series of bonds.

Depending on the assumptions one makes about the interest rate on the bonds and total valuation of property in the City, the property tax increase will be $66.60 per year for a $300,000 dollar home. https://theelectricgf.com/2023/06/23/city-commissioners-vote-to-send-public-safety-infrastructure-bond-to-the-november-ballot/

How Does all of this affect a below average citizen?

Just for fun let’s take a look at how this state property tax increase affects the property tax of the biggest promoter of the City’s Safety Levy, City Commissioner Rick Tryon. To do this, we took Rick’s house through the www.taxshiftmt.com web based property tax calculator. The value of Rick’s house is considerably below the average value for Cascade County, weighing in at $227,900. Rick’s total property tax increase thanks to the Governor and the Republican legislature is $371.83. Rounding his home value down to $200,000 to simplify the math, Rick will pay an additional $280 per year if the City Safety Levy passes. The Library levy added an additional $40, and the County safety levy added $37. The safety levy bond issuance would add an additional $44.40 per year. Add all that together and it’s an increase of $772 to Rick’s property taxes. In 2022, Rick’s property tax bill was $1962. When all of these changes take effect, it will be about $2734. . .almost a 40% increase in just one year.

State Legislature’s Increase Statewide Average Increase 45%

The Republican Montana Legislature in 2023 was a virtual orgy of tax giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations, while giving the average homeowner the largest property tax increase in recent memory. On average, a Montana homeowner’s property tax increase is 45% thanks to the Legislature and Administration.

Republicans had a supermajority at the legislature, and all Cascade County’s legislative seats are held by Republicans. The county commission and the sheriff are all Republican. Though the Great Falls City Commission is technically non-partisan, Republicans hold a majority on the Commission. Councilman Joe McKenney is a former Republican Legislator. Councilman Eric Hinebauch is Chair of the local Republican Central Committee, and Councilman Rick Tryon, who routinely spews right-wing talking points from his perch as a writer for a local blog and from his seat on the City Commission, has also run for office as a Republican.

Who’s the tax and spend party?

-KT

Note: In this article, we are talking about local mill levies, so we want to point out a couple of things. Figuring out the exact impact of mill levies can be difficult, because they usually just allow local jurisdictions to levy up to a maximum. They do not automatically result in a set amount of tax increases. The impact of mill levies also changes over time based on a number of things, including valuation of the jurisdiction’s entire tax base. Bottom line numbers can be squishy. Our figures are mostly taken from articles by The Electric and various websites.

Montanans Rally For Tax Relief

Montanans Rally For Tax Relief

Great Falls was well represented at the recent tax protest at the capitol.   The rally was to protest dramatic increases in residential property taxes thanks to the Republican legislature and the Gianforte administration.  On average property taxes on residential property in Montana are going up a shocking 45%.  Here is a link explaining exactly what the Republicans did to increase our taxes. https://wtf406.com/2023/07/big-corporations-get-tax-benefits-while-montana-resident-get-higher-property-taxes/

About 200 people attended the rally in the Capitol Rotunda.  A good contingent from Great Falls carpooled  down to listen to speakers and make their opposition to the tax increase known.  Speakers included former Governor Brian Schweitzer and former Cascade County Commissioner Jane Weber who is also running for state legislature.  Both pointed out that the governor’s and legislature’s actions have  resulted in a massive tax shift from large corporations to residential property tax payers.  A new website calculator breaking down how much your property taxes are going up and who benefits can be found in our previous post here. 

https://wtf406.com/2023/09/they-got-the-gold-mine-we-get-the-shaft/

Both Schwietzer and Weber pointed out that the tax rebate being promoted by the Republicans is temporary, confusing and leaves almost half of all Montanans behind. Both also pointed out that Republicans made residential property taxes go up when they had the biggest budget surplus in history ($2.6 billion).  Instead, they used that money to give big corporations and wealthy individuals big tax breaks.

The rally was organized and sponsored by Big Sky 55+, a statewide non-profit group which advocates for economic security for older Montanans.  

Jane Weber makes the point that while giving big tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals, average Montanans only got a bone. (Photo courtesy of the Helen Independent Record.)

 

For a video of Brian Schweitzer’s comments follow this link. 

https://helenair.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/rally-in-capitol-rotunda-calls-for-special-session-over-property-tax-hike/article_26fc829e-6165-11ee-aa98-63e547ef326e.html

If you are really into this, this link will take you to a movie clip of the entire event. (you may have to paste this link into your browser address bar)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pET1mUw-MYImi5rm-jXpdCeqYZaOVWPK/view?usp=sharing_eil_se_dm&ts=651c1ded

Thank you to the Helena Independent Record for its reporting on this event. https://helenair.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/rally-in-capitol-rotunda-calls-for-special-session-over-property-tax-hike/article_26fc829e-6165-11ee-aa98-63e547ef326e.html

 

KT

Republicans Coming for Your Personal Financial Information?

Republicans Coming for Your Personal Financial Information?

State Senator and Republican Majority Leader, Steve Fitzpatrick, wants the personal financial information of his political opponents in the legislature.  In a statement given to Lee Papers on Monday, October 2, Fitzaptrick said he was filing an “information request” with the Department of Revenue requesting confidential information on Democratic legislators’ taxes.  

Fitzpatrick’s request is apparently motivated by the fact that opponents of the Republicans’ big residential tax increase held a rally at the Capitol featuring Jane Weber, former Cascade County Commissioner and current legislative candidate and former Governor Brian Schweitzer.  The rally was organized by Big Sky 55+ a group dedicated to economic security for older Montanans.  The event attracted an estimated 200 people and garnered state-wide press coverage. https://helenair.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/rally-in-capitol-rotunda-calls-for-special-session-over-property-tax-hike/article_26fc829e-6165-11ee-aa98-63e547ef326e.html

On its merit’s Fitzpatrick has to know that there is virtually no way his request will be enforced by the courts in Montana.  So put this one in the “political stunt” category.  But maybe making  tax information for legislators public isn’t such a bad idea.  We’d sure like to be able to see Fitzpatrick’s tax returns and other personal documents.  Maybe then we could have a clear picture of who his legal clients are and how much they pay him. And why stop at his personal records.  It would be nice to see who the clients of his law firm are and if the client list overlaps the topic of legislation Fitzpatrick introduces.  

Consider this reported by the Missoula Current last March. Republican Senator Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls is the sponsor of three bills which would greatly increase the utility costs of NorthWestern Energy’s customers. The three bills are SB 265, SB 266 and SB 379.  Fitzpatrick is also the son of the former NorthWestern Director of Government Affairs.”  Hmmmm.

KT

Tax Fairness Rally

Tax Fairness Rally

Tomorrow, October 2nd, citizens are meeting at the Capital to rally for tax fairness. Recent property tax evaluations how Montanans worrying how they will make ends meet. Big Sky 55+ has organized this rally to demand action from elected officials. For many of us, tax fairness will mean the difference between staying in our homes or ending up on the streets. Let’s join them tomorrow!

Tryon Doubles Down on Double-Digit Tax Increase

Tryon Doubles Down on Double-Digit Tax Increase

Tryon has long championed the proposed safety levy, despite its astronomical price tag. When first presented with tier options for the  levy, Tryon vocally supported the largest price tag, coming out to about a 191% property tax increase. Having angered Republicans and Democrats alike, Tryon tried to walk back his big-tax dreams, instead opting for the current version of the safety levy.

The proposed safety levy includes a massive tax increase for property owners. The City Commission settled on a whopping 65% property tax increase, and sent that proposal to the ballot. They also authorized spending $150,000 of OUR tax money to convince voters to support the levy.

Technically the city commission is non-partisan. Although that may be the structure of the race, it’s quite laughable to act as if the political affiliations of our commissioners aren’t already known. Tryon is a Republican-supposedly the party of “small government.” So how does Tryon’s attempt to raise our property taxes 65% align with the Republican party’s platform? 

Combined with the state’s alarming new property tax valuations and the deepening housing crisis in Great Falls, residents are being priced out of their homes. Poverty and housing issues undoubtedly affect crime rates. Passing the safety levy could, in fact, worsen crime in Great Falls. As WTF406 has previously reported, research shows that increasing police budgets doesn’t decrease serious crime. Tryon expresses no understanding that the safety levy does nothing to combat addiction. If we want to decrease crime in Great Falls, folks need access to substance use treatment and mental health centers. The safety levy doesn’t provide those resources, or do anything to prevent crime. Instead of identifying and funding real solutions, the City Commission is asking voters to approve a huge tax increase in the moment we can least afford it.

As Tryon seeks re-election, will his high tax policies effect his popularity with Republicans? What’s happened to the “tighten-your-belts” narrative that Tryon and his party ascribe to?

Has Tryon and his tax increase finally become too extreme for Great Falls Republicans? The answer will likely determine if you can afford to pay your taxes next year.

Read our previous evaluation of the safety levy here: https://wtf406.com/2023/03/city-commission-seeks-65-property-tax-increase-slates-150k-to-convince-voters/