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To reduce Montana’s property taxes, Democratic lawmakers call a special session



Billings, Montana — Democratic state senators asked for a one-day special session on Thursday in a letter to Governor Greg Gianforte (R), outlining a package that may lower anticipated property taxes. Many people in the state were astonished by the projections.

After receiving their property tax estimates in late June, Montanans were shocked.

“When I initially bought my home, I thought it was reasonable,” said Kevin Whitehead, a Billings resident, on Friday. “But 40%, that number jumps out as extremely high. And that makes my spidey senses kind of tingle.”

The following letter, which includes a special request, was sent by Democratic lawmakers to Governor Gianforte on Thursday.

“I think the governor can, at any time, call a special session, which is why this letter came to be,” said Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter, D-Billings. “He can frame the call however he wants.”

A one-day special session with a single item was requested in the letter as a last-ditch effort to cut property taxes.

“The last time there was a special session, we know it was in 2017. And that was to address kind of a deeper and bigger problem,” Kerr-Carpenter said. “This is not a normal way of doing business, I’d say. But again, you know, we’re living in extraordinary times.”

If the governor permits the special session, the Democrats have a bill ready to be introduced, according to Kerr-Carpenter.

“They have a two-page bill ready to go that would create a revenue-neutral property tax system,” Kerr-Carpenter said. “Basically, it would mean that our property taxes would, for this re-appraisal cycle, only go to cover our current expenses and we wouldn’t see this skyrocketing amount.”

In accordance with the letter, the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) recommended a revenue-neutral property tax rate to lawmakers during the 68th Montana Legislative Session, but it was not approved. The letter also claims that the state’s share of property taxes increased dramatically as a result of not implementing the DOR’s advice.

“Property taxes were a constant conversation throughout the legislature because everybody knows it’s a problem. It’s been a problem for years,” Kerr-Carpenter said.

Republicans counter that they have already addressed the matter in another manner.

“We’ve already taken care of that through property tax rebates. Which the Republicans, and only two Democrats, supported,” said Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson. “The rebate’s that you’ll be getting this fall, that is directed only to Montana residents, will more than cover the state’s 15% share of the property tax increase. What the Democrats are proposing would benefit Montana non-resident taxpayers.”

Hertz claims that the estimates you received might not be an accurate representation of your actual property taxes.

“What you have to keep in mind, is appraisals are used to allocate taxes. The local governments and the schools then set their budgets that requires a certain tax level. Those taxes are then allocated based on your appraisal,” Hertz said. “So appraisals don’t directly mean that your taxes are going up. In fact, your appraisal could go down, and your taxes could still go up, depending on what the schools and the local governments do with their budgets.”

Hertz claimed that he did not anticipate the governor granting this request.

“I think he’s clear that he’s not calling the special session,” Hertz said. “We need to focus on what’s going on at your local government and your schools. 85% of your property taxes go to local governments and schools. So Montana taxpayers concerned about the property taxes need to start attending budget meetings in the next few months.”

Considering the governor’s office’s answer, a special session doesn’t appear likely.

“Knowing that Montanans’ property taxes are too high, Governor Gianforte and Republican legislators came into the legislative session with a plan to rein in property taxes and provide hardworking Montanans with property tax rebates to ease the burden,” Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said in part in a written statement to MTN News on Friday. “The governor is committed to building on recent reforms and rebates to bring down property taxes which are far too high, and he urges county commissioners and other local leaders to exercise fiscal responsibility and limit the growth of Montanans’ property taxes.”

On yet another subject, the parties appear to be at odds right now.

“The Democrats, all during the session, opposed all of the proposed property tax relief and rebates that the Republicans offered,” Hertz said. “And now they seem to want to become engaged. I think this is more about politics and less about getting things done.”

Kerr-Carpenter disagrees.

“We need to be putting Montana property owners first and Montana renters first. There’s solutions that would go and fix this for everyone. Instead, we’re only looking at short-term solutions,” Kerr-Carpenter said. “I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the long-term.”


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