Laura Smith

Too many vacation rentals. Banks buying houses. Committed and hardworking Department of Revenue staff.

There are an awful lot of options for who and what to blame for the steep property tax appraisals that many of us received in the mail the last few weeks. But I’ll tell you about the best kept secret in Montana this summer…the Republican supermajority could have prevented this.

Let’s look at how. Last week, I attended the Department of Revenue’s community meeting in Helena about our property tax appraisals. People were frustrated and had lots of questions, mostly around why this was happening. Some thought short-term and vacation rentals like Airbnb and VRBO were to blame. Others directed their frustration to the row of hardworking DOR assessors, who were doing their best to field questions and provide what answers they could.

Ironically, with a half dozen of them in a row at the front of the auditorium, the DOR assessors looked like a human shield. Perhaps they were an unknowing shield around the real cause…the Republican supermajority in the Montana legislature.

I said this at the meeting, and I’ll say it again here. I’m a Democrat and I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or don’t vote. You deserve to know what your legislators are up to at the Capitol, and Democrats were the only ones on top of this issue, bringing multiple bills that could have prevented this situation.

Those bills were shot down by the Republican supermajority every time they came up for a vote. And here we are. For example, Democrats proposed HB 280, which established a long-term tax credit so that your property taxes never exceed a certain percentage of your household income.

If this bill had passed, a senior earning $55,000 with a property tax bill of $3,900 would get a tax credit of $1,250. If her property taxes rise faster than her income (you know, like this year), the tax credit would be adjusted. In contrast, the bill the Governor and GOP passed would give that senior, along with folks who own mansions, the same check for $675. Come 2025, that senior is out of luck. And did we mention you need to apply to the government for that check? Doesn’t sound like cutting red tape to me.

I think we need to be honest and direct about what happened at the legislative session earlier this year. Bills that favor the rich passed. Bills that would have helped everyone else, including regular working Montana families, did not. Bills to refund renters for their application fees, to build more housing that regular people can afford, and protect mobile home residents from bad landlords—Republicans killed all of these bills.

Our property tax bills are just another example. So when you look at your property appraisals in the coming days and decide whether to appeal it, put an extra item on your to do list: Call your state legislator and ask them how they voted on long-term property tax solutions and bills addressing renters. If they voted for the cumbersome check application, ask what will happen in a year or two when there are no more $675 checks in the mail. The answer is “nothing” because every long-term solution got killed by the Republican supermajority.

At the end of the day, regular Montanans got hung out to dry when it comes to a long-term property tax solution. And there was only one party trying to prevent that. Your Montana Democrats.

Laura Smith represents Montana House District 79 in Lewis & Clark County. She lives in the HD 79 with her husband, two kids, and fierce hunting dog, Smoochie. You can reach her at: Laura.Smith@legmt.gov.

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