As a hardworking Montanan, you know how to balance a budget. If you live paycheck to paycheck, you know how to make the tough financial decisions to keep the heat on, pay the rent and put food on the table.
That’s why it’s so insulting that this legislative session, Republican lawmakers have treated the Montana state budget like a bottomless well of funds, handing out tax breaks, cuts, and gifts — and robbing seniors, children and working families to pay for it.
Our communities are still stinging from the devastating cuts to social services that went into effect last year. Workers lost their jobs, we lost critical services like treatment for mental health disorders, and in some cases, service providers closed shop because they could no longer sustain the cost of their operations.
This legislative session, it was our job as lawmakers to right this wrong.
But when we sat down at the table to try and find the funding to restore these services, our Republican colleagues did the unthinkable: They took our state’s limited dollars and tried to give away more than $50 million of it in reckless tax breaks and exemptions.
Giving away tax breaks seems great on paper. But when the Legislature gives up tens of millions of dollars in revenue, you pick up the tab.
Because of cuts to our state revenue, we have seniors who are left without care. We have veterans who can’t afford their medicine. Montana’s suicide death rate is increasing while our community mental health services are decreasing. And in the aftermath of the deep cuts to social services, the number of beds filled at the Warm Springs state mental health facility increased.
Simply put, we see the hard truth that our Republican colleagues are unwilling to accept: Our state does not have the revenue it needs to give Montanans the services they need.
What’s more, most hardworking families aren’t seeing their taxes go down. In fact, they’re seeing them go up.
The promise of “no new taxes” by our Republican colleagues rings hollow. When the Legislature fails to be creative about how to make our tax system fair, we put the burden on local governments to make up for that lack of funding by levying new taxes. Increases in your property taxes are a direct result of the Montana Legislature not doing its job.
We’re pulling back the curtain: Our state is facing a budget crisis. It’s our job as legislators to take a hard look at our tax system and figure out a way to fund necessary services without putting the burden on you.
There are legitimate ways to do this. Maybe we could take another look at our capital gains tax, a literal tax exemption that most benefits multinational corporations and wealthy out-of-staters. Or maybe we could revisit Montana’s income tax brackets, because someone making a million dollars a year shouldn’t be paying the same percent in taxes as someone who cleans hotel rooms.
It’s time for Republican leaders to get real about fiscal responsibility.
To say we live in a state where we can’t make ends meet isn’t the truth—it’s bad leadership.
Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter, D-Billings, represents House District 49 and Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula, represents House District 99 in the Montana Legislature.