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Measure to cap Montana property taxes won't qualify for November ballot

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Posted at 7:50 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 21:50:39-04

HELENA — A proposed constitutional amendment to cap Montana’s residential property taxes will not appear on the ballot in November.

Matthew Monforton, one of the sponsors of Constitutional Initiative 121, confirmed Thursday that they would not reach the more than 60,000 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the general election ballot. It came after the political committee opposing CI-121 released a statement earlier in the day, claiming success in preventing qualification.

Monforton put part of the blame on a legal challenge that temporarily restricted them from gathering signatures, and he said they had thousands more signatures that couldn’t be counted because the Montana Secretary of State’s Office ruled there was an error in the brochure they used while gathering them.

“We fell short due to a left-wing judge illegally enjoining signature-gathering,” Monforton said in a statement. “Additionally, a conglomerate of liberal special interests and tax-and-spend Republicans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve a property tax system that punishes homeowners.”

Know the Consequences: No on CI-121 – the group that formed to oppose the measure – included a wide variety of statewide organizations, including the Montana Association of Realtors, Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana Chamber of Commerce and Montana Farm Bureau Federation. The committee reported collecting and spending more than $300,000.

“This outcome is the best possible outcome for all Montanans,” said Ron Ostberg, the group’s treasurer, in a statement. “As a small farmer and rancher, CI-121 would have harmed not just my community, but my livelihood. I am proud all our hard work paid off. I’m glad Montanans saw this was not the right way to address these critical issues facing our state.”

Cap Property Taxes, the committee backing CI-121, reported raising and spending less than $2,000.

CI-121 would have based residential property’s assessed value on what it was in 2019, then limited any increases in value to no more than 2% per year, based on the rate of inflation. Property could have been reassessed to its new market value only after it was sold or substantially improved. CI-121 also would have limited total residential property taxes to 1% of the assessed value.

Supporters, like Monforton and State Auditor Troy Downing, said the measure was away to protect Montana homeowners from large tax increases as real estate values in the state spike. Opponents said it could significantly disrupt local government budgets and force leaders to shift the tax burden to other sources. In April, a state legislative committee voted unanimously to oppose CI-121.

As of Thursday, the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed just over 5,000 signatures in support of CI-121 had been accepted – though that number is not official and does not include all counties. Election administrators have until July 15 to submit accepted signatures to the Secretary of State.

While Monforton acknowledged this effort will fall short, he said they are already planning to submit a similar initiative in June 2023 – giving them roughly a year to gather signatures for the 2024 ballot.

“The Legislature is addicted to overtaxing homeowners,” he said. “This is a problem that is not going away.”