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Montana lawmakers vote unanimously to oppose property tax cap initiative

Todd O'Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, speaks to state lawmakers April 19, 2022.
Shaylee Ragar
/
Montana Public Radio
Todd O'Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, speaks to state lawmakers April 19, 2022.
Updated: April 21, 2022 at 1:34 PM MDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from CI-121 sponsor Matthew Monforton.

In a rare bipartisan, unanimous vote Tuesday, state lawmakers declared their opposition to a proposed change to the Montana Constitution that would cap residential property taxes.

“Disastrous,” “clumsy” and “drastic” were the words used to describe Constitutional Initiative 121 during a legislative revenue interim committee meeting.

Todd O’Hair is executive director of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

“Montana businesses are supportive of comprehensive tax reform. CI-121 is neither comprehensive, nor is it even reform. It is a clumsy bludgeon, similar to a bull in a china closet,” he said in the meeting.

Experts in business, taxation, local government and public education convened to talk about the potential impacts of the proposal to limit residential property taxes.

They expressed concerns about major budget cuts to services, like police and fire departments, and the ways in which the tax burden would shift to nonresidential property owners.

Former state lawmaker Matthew Monforton and current State Auditor Troy Downing submitted CI-121.

Monforton called the Legislature’s panel on CI-121 a “farce” consisting entirely of opponents.

“Legislators will continue rejecting meaningful property tax relief because they are perfectly fine with Montanans being taxed out of their homes and replaced by wealthy out-of-staters willing to pay huge property tax increases,” Monforton said in a statement to MTPR.

If passed, the initiative would task the state legislature with creating a new property tax system.

“I have huge concerns about our ability as a Legislature to actually work through this,” Democratic Sen. Jill Cohenour said. “And to be able to figure out ways to not harm the services that folks really, really do need.”  

Organizations representing realtors, farmers and low-income Montanans also spoke in opposition to the proposal. No one spoke in support.

Republican Rep. Becky Beard said it’s important for policymakers to talk about tax reform. But she brought the motion for the state revenue committee to symbolically oppose the initiative.

“This is an issue that really needs to be discussed in a full legislative session.”

Supporters of the initiative have until June 17 to collect more than 60,000 signatures needed to put the proposal on the 2022 ballot.

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