Montana Voices: More than one way to build a responsible budget

Kim Abbott

By Kim Abbott

We have a long tradition in Montana of joining together to achieve those things that we cannot do alone — from quality schools and universities, to protecting Montana’s clean air and water, to maintaining safe communities. Montanans want to live in a state where legislators make strategic investments that build a brighter, more successful future for all Montanans.

The governor’s budget reflects a balanced approach of making some cuts while also ensuring we have adequate revenue to continue to invest in our communities. However, the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee have proposed further deep cuts that will have long term impact on school children and college students. Budgetary cuts to programs within the Department of Public Health and Human Services are particularly damaging, as it also results in the loss of millions in federal matching funds. These programs include services to help abused and neglected children, seniors, and disabled individuals.

As a member of the House Taxation Committee, I know that there is more than one way to build a responsible budget, and I believe we need to take a balanced approach. We must factor in both budget cuts and new revenue to ensure we can continue to invest in our communities while also maintaining a balanced budget and strong ending fund balance. Working together, we can ensure we have adequate resources to invest in our fellow Montanans and communities.

Right now the super wealthy are getting away with paying less in taxes because of significant tax breaks put in place nearly a decade ago. The 2003 Legislature passed a massive tax cut bill that cost our state nearly $1 billion in lost revenue over the course of 10 years. More than half of those tax cuts went to households with incomes over $500,000, less than one percent of households. Because of these tax cuts, today someone making just $18,000 a year pays the same top tax rate as someone making $1 million a year.

That isn’t fair. This is why I’ve proposed legislation to restore tax fairness while also ensuring we have adequate resources to balance the budget responsibly.

HB 330 will restore a top tax bracket for incomes over $400,000. Not only will this bring in critical revenue to continue to invest in infrastructure, our schools, and support for Montana’s seniors, but it will also make our tax code more balanced.

In a year when the Legislature is proposing hundreds of millions in cuts to programs that help low-income children, seniors, and college students – we must talk about our state budget and our tax systems in a way that reminds all Montanans that we all benefit when we invest in our communities.

You can’t create jobs without a well-educated workforce. Companies want to build and grow in a state where there are skilled workers, and that takes a quality, comprehensive education. Montana must also make sure college is affordable to all Montanans, through investing in community colleges and the Montana University System.

Well-maintained roads, bridges, schools, and wastewater facilities are a “must have” for businesses whether they are start-ups, established businesses, or companies looking to relocate in Montana. Having up-to-date infrastructure is central to the health of our state’s economy now and into the future.

We can fix Montana’s tax code so that everyone pays their fair share. We can ensure every child has a quality public education with safe schools, modern equipment and qualified teachers, and we can ensure Montana’s roads, bridges, and wastewater facilities are sufficient to the needs of our communities.

Right now Montana doesn’t have enough funds to support these critical investments, but we can do something about it. Understanding the situation we’re in now, it makes sense to ask the people that benefited the most from tax cuts enacted in 2003, to pitch in to help us protect the things we love about our state.

In Montana, we all benefit when the playing field is level. We need to fix our tax system so everyone pays their fair share. That way, we can maintain investments in Montana’s public schools and infrastructure. I hope you will join me in supporting HB 330.

Kim Abbott is a representative from House District 83 in Helena