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  • Margie MacDonald

A Big Week in Helena!

Big Sky 55 Bulletin #5


  • Hundreds gathered in Capital to honor and celebrate our Montana Constitution.

  • House and Senate passed massive tax cuts and rebates, tilted heavily toward the wealthiest Montanans.

  • Big Sky 55+ hosted a virtual Town Hall discussion on Long Term Care. More details below.


Action Items!

  • Urge your Senator to blast SB 15 (meaning move it out of committee and onto the floor for a full vote). We support SB 15, a targeted, on-going income credit providing relief for moderate- and low-income property owners and renters.

  • Urge your Senator to vote NO on SB 210, a bill to criminalize health care providers who prescribe aid in dying to terminally ill patients.

  • Scroll down for more information on these two bills.

 

Former Gov. Racicot keynotes “We the People” Pro-Constitution rally in Rotunda

Hundreds showed up despite treacherous winter roads, and hundreds more sent their warm wishes to celebrate Montana’s 50-year-old internationally recognized constitution.


Former Gov. Marc Racicot prepared a thoughtful defense for both the U.S. Constitution and the Montana Constitution, emphasizing the importance of the separation of powers between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches.


Racicot described both documents as steeped in the ideals of civic “virtue and optimism focused on the public good” rather than partisan preference. His words provide a timely antidote to Montana lawmakers pushing bills to make judges and local school officials campaign on partisan tickets or telling the judiciary how to order and direct the branch.

Former lawmaker and beloved Bozeman native Dorothy Bradley also spoke about the importance of fighting for what we value. The Montana Constitution has seen minimal tinkering during its first 50 years. In contrast, this year's legislature has 56 bill drafts in the works to amend the document piecemeal, undercutting many rights and privileges Montanans cherish and value.




To finish out the rally, the Montana Logging and Ballet Company performed an original piece, (sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle):


(Verse I) In Montana we think we are thriving and successful,

but some folks think that’s a problem and they find it stressful.

So to make Montana great, they have a solution:

To solve the problems we don’t have - They’d trash the Constitution!



 

Long-debunked “trickle down” tax bills move quickly,

without regard to the budget process


“While rural nursing homes are closing across the state, while the state hospital is crumbling before our eyes, while cities and counties are struggling to make ends meet, while schools are hard pressed to find qualified staff, why would we make it a priority to give tax breaks to the wealthiest among us before those problems are addressed?”

- from Big Sky 55+ Board Member Ken Toole's Op-Ed “Gianforte’s tax cuts - been there, done that” Read Ken's Op-Ed here.

(Image: Courtesy of the Montana Budget & Policy Center)


Big Sky 55+ past chair Ken Toole’s recent editorial details the failure of Montana’s 2003 experiment in trickle-down economics. The beneficiaries were largely rich people, the costs were three times what had been estimated, and schools, local governments and basic services were eroded.


Nevertheless, the current legislative supermajority and Gov. Gianforte are determined to restructure the state’s ongoing tax laws, based on their continued faith in trickle-down economics. The question now is how much will be left to repair the rippling after-effects of the pandemic, including loss of workforce, lack of childcare providers, a housing crisis, and nursing home closures across the state?


We oppose all of these tax bills being moved on a fast track:

HB 192, Income tax rebate, Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings.

Passed House, on way to Senate Tax Committee

  • Provides an income tax rebate up to $1,250 per individual, $2,500 per couple filing jointly.

  • Democrats resisted the bill in both the committee and on the floor out of concern that many low wage workers do not pay enough tax to benefit from the rebate (e.g. many Social Security recipients and home health caregivers!), and that the $480 million price tag was too costly too early in the session before many pressing budgetary needs have been fully understood.

HB 212, Increase business equipment tax exemption, Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Ft. Benton.

Passed House, on way to Senate Tax Committee

  • Raises the business equipment tax exemption from the current $300,000 to $1 million.

  • Over the past 30 years the Legislature has repeatedly cut this tax on businesses. Business equipment tax is a type of property tax. The number of businesses paying the tax went from 200,000 in the early 1990’s to 20,000 in 2008.

  • As a result, in the early 1990s, homeowner property taxes accounted for 38% of total property taxes. In 2008, they accounted for 50% of total property taxes paid.

  • HB 212 lowers the number of businesses paying equipment tax even further -- to 3,000 businesses.

  • This is an example of why residential property taxes keep going up while lawmakers boast that they voted to lower property taxes.

HB 221, Revise income tax rates for net long-term capital gains, Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon.

Passed House, on way to Senate Tax Committee

  • This bill would give Montana the 3rd lowest capital gains tax rate in the nation, among states that tax capital gains

  • In Montana, income earned through investments already is taxed less than income earned as wages.

  • This bill worsens existing income inequality and makes our state tax code less fair.

HB 222, Property tax rebate on principal residence, Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon.

Passed House, on way to Senate Tax Committee

  • Provides a two-time $500 dollar rebate on property taxes paid for a Montanan-owned primary residence.

  • It does not address renters and it is not ongoing.

  • The bill would cost the state nearly $500 million over the two tax years.

SB 121, Reduce top marginal income tax rate and increase EITC (earned income tax credit), Sen. Becky Beard, R-Elliston.

Heard in Senate Finance and Claims after passing 2nd reading on a party line vote

  • This bill would provide on average $6,000 annually to Montana’s top 10% of taxpayers (who make over $500,000/year).

  • Montanans in the $43,000-$67,000/year income range, will see around $50 annually.

  • While it does include an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for Montana’s lowest income families, there are better EITC bills aimed at lower income working families.

  • It would cost the state $180 million a year by 2027 and onward.

 

Big Sky 55+'s Virtual Town Hall event: Can MT Senior Care Survive the 2023 Legislature?

 

Action Items!

We support SB 15 (Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula) a bill providing tax credit for all ages homeowners and renters

In contrast to the above tax bills, SB 15 (Shannon O'Brien, D-Missoula) is a targeted tax credit aimed at benefitting middle- and lower-income Montana property owners and renters.

  • It provides, on an ongoing basis, an income tax credit of up to $1,300 for lower-income property taxpayers and expand the credit to all ages and to renters.

  • The bill came out of the Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee with bipartisan support but locked up and was tabled in the Senate Taxation Committee on a 6-6 vote.

  • The bill can still be "blasted", meaning that the full Senate could vote to take it from the Committee and bring it to the floor for debate on 2nd reading.

Contact your Senators urging them to vote to blast SB 15 -- a balanced, fair, and ongoing tax reform that addresses high residential property taxes, benefiting those who need it most.



We oppose SB 210 (Carl Glimm, R-Kila) a bill to criminalize medical aid in dying

Big Sky 55+ stood with family members, doctors, health care organizations and palliative care advanced practice nurses this week to oppose SB 210.

  • SB 210 criminalizes the act of prescribing a lethal dose of patient-administered medications allowed under current “physician aid-in-dying” laws.

  • Aid-in-dying prescriptions can currently be used only when the terminal diagnosis is certain, and death is immanent.

  • This bill will force physicians to withhold compassionate care for patients suffering from painful terminal illnesses such as Multiple-myeloma, or ALS.

  • This bill is yet another attack on the Montana Constitution. Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in the Baxter case that patients have a constitutional right to receive this aid-in-dying option.

Contact your Senators and urge them to vote NO on SB 210.


Click here to read additional comments on SB 210 by Jeannie Reeves-Hansen, Big Sky 55+ Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

Click here to read Op-Ed by Dick Barrett and Mark Connell entitled "Aid in Dying is the right each of us has to control"

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