I’d like to do this because there’s this idea in Montana right now – falsely put forth by partisans – that only Republicans support a sales tax.
While it’s true that prominent GOPers like Scott Sales recently made headlines by floating the idea of a sales tax to reduce the burden on property taxpayers, the idea that Republicans are pushing a sales tax simply isn’t true.
Most Republicans vote against tax increases, especially sales taxes. It’s only when we dig deeper that we find it’s actually Democrats that want a sales tax more than anyone.
And while it’s true that most major cities are clamoring for a sales tax, Missoula leads the pack.
A big problem here in Missoula is that 65% of residents would support a 3% sales tax if it “resulted in a decrease in property taxes.”
That’s what a poll told us, though we were never told what the sample size of that poll was.
I guess it’s buried somewhere in the 195-page report that the city paid a Georgia firm to produce.
Your tax dollars at work.
Currently tourists bring in $275 million to the Missoula economy each year.
There’s a total of $2.3 billion in sales in the city each year, and if a one-cent sales tax were instituted, the city would bring in $23.6 million in taxes.
That’s a lot of money to apply to the city’s ‘wants list,’ and you know they’ll do everything in their power (which means spending your money) to get that tax.
Here are some more people that will do everything possible to tax you more.
#1 Steve Bullock
Last year, when Montana had a $227 million budget deficit, Governor Steve Bullock proposed increasing the sales taxes on motel beds and car rentals.
He wanted a 3% increase for beds and a 6% increase for cars.
Sure, these sales taxes might affect tourists the most, but Montanans do actually rent cars and sleep in motels from time to time.
Those around Glacier National Park said this idea would “hurt the state’s ability to compete” with other states for tourists.
I think Bullock is too busy chasing the skirt of a presidential run to care.
#2 John Engen
“We’re looking for new revenue,” Missoula’s mayor said this spring. “The place where other communities are finding it is in these local option taxes.”
“It’s really a success story in the communities where the tool is used,” he reiterated.
While that tool might hurt some of the poorer members of the community, Engen isn’t concerned.
And why should he be? The guy just gave himself a pay raise, bringing his yearly total up to $91,800…not counting the benefits package.
#3 Cyndy Andrus
Bozeman’s mayor recently “hired a consultant to work on getting sales tax bills through the 2019 legislative session.”
She’s effectively using the argument that she doesn’t have enough tax money, and then uses tax money to figure out how to get more tax money.
“I will continue to try and work with the legislature to pass something that helps us again put another tool in the toolbox,” she said.
The previous city manager was Chris Kukulski (the city council there ousted him last year). He supported Bozeman’s latest attempt to get a local option sales tax. He also wanted that extra tool in the toolbox.
That tool is typically poor people’s money.
While the mayor of Bozeman only makes $21,600 a year, their city manager is making $148,500.
#4 Bill Cole
The mayor of Billings also wants a local option sales tax, specifically on “alcohol, prepared meals, hotel rooms, and luxury goods.”
Cole only makes $9,600 a year in his figurehead position, though the city’s city manager makes $155,000 a year.
#5 Jean Curtiss
“I’m challenging people to start thinking about the other tools we don’t have in Montana,” lame duck Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said last Thursday.
She’s talking about “a local options tax and a sales tax,” which is “something city leaders have also suggested.”
While it’s true that such a tax might hurt the poorer members of her county, Curtiss isn’t concerned.
At over $66,000 a year in salary, she knows she’ll do just fine.
#6 Dave Strohmaier
This Missoula County Commissioner says “the state must look at other taxing options beyond property owners,” and by that he means a local option sales tax.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Montana Legislature gives in to his demand.
#7 Heather Harp
“This is what this type of local option sales tax would allow us to do,” the Missoula City Councilor said this spring, which is to keep “all these social safety-net programs we’ve relied on to take care of the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Yes, taking care of the vulnerable members of our community is important. And we have the money to do that…usually.
It’s important to remember that this woman voted for all the ‘want-list’ items on the current Missoula city budget, such as art parks, art galleries, and developing an island in the river.
Please remember that while many of Missoula’s residents struggle to pay their bills each month, Harp just voted to give herself a $1.40 an hour raise.
#8 Dick Barrett
Not all Democrats agree with the statewide sales tax approach.
“A statewide sales tax would unfairly tax people with lower income,” Missoula Senator Dick Barrett said last year when he put forth a constitutional amendment to ban a statewide sale tax.
His amendment did not call for banning local option or resort taxes, however.
In my book, that means he supports those options, and ‘people with lower income’ be damned.
#9 Dave Fern
This Whitefish democrat put forth House Bill 577 last session, which would have allowed local residents to vote on whether to have a sales tax “on nonessential luxury items.”
The trick here is that it takes the authority to allow a local option sales tax away from the legislature and gives it to voters.
Democrats think this tactic will get them the revenue they so badly crave, but I’m not so sure.
#10 Mike Phillips
This Bozeman democrat put forth Senate Bill 331 last session, which was a “local option infrastructure investment and property tax relief act.”
Call it what you will, but it amounts to a sales tax so we can do something we should already be doing with our tax money – fix roads.
Democrats can never understand that it’s not a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem.
#11 The Missoula Economic Partnership
This drain-on-the-taxpayers-pocket organization found that “a quarter-cent sales tax in Missoula County would generated $5.6 million in 2016,” so they support such a sales tax.
Such a tax might even increase their $640,000 annual budget, 33% of which taxpayers fund.
#12 The Missoula Redevelopment Agency
“Montana is heavily reliant on tourism, and yet we choose not to have any of those folks who enjoy our state and the recreation it provides participate in our tax base through a sales tax,” Tasha Jones of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency recently said.
With such a sales tax, the MRA would be able to get a lot more taxpayer money.
Remember, last year they’d budgeted $26 million for just 16 items on their want list.
These items typically involve giving your money to rich, out-of-state developers so they can identify areas in town that might be able to have the label ‘blight’ applied to them.
If they’re able to accomplish that they can then use your money to redevelop that ‘blight.’ This typically results in immense profits for said developers.
#13 The Montana Infrastructure Coalition
This group has over 70 members, such as the Montana Chamber of Commerce. Their executive director is Darryl James, and he wants local voters to decide whether they want a local option sales tax, not the legislature.
I’m sure there are a lot more Democrats in Montana that want a sales tax.
If we counted all the members of the Missoula City Council, for instance, we could add 9 more names to the list.
Same for Billings and Bozeman and Whitefish.
If we added in all the legislators that would vote for it, we’d get dozens more.
The irony is that Democrats claim to be the ‘party of the people,’ yet we know that sales taxes are regressive taxes that will hit the poorest of the people the hardest.
I’m deeply ashamed that Democrats feel this way. I’m also frustrated they think this is the only new tool they can add to their toolbox.
The Democrats sure are bereft of ideas.
You can call it ‘local option’ if you want, but either way, I’ve got to pay more for the same thing.
Democrats feel this is necessary to shore up the shaky, two-legged stool of property and income taxes.
Most cite infrastructure as the reason they support a sales tax. Some dodge the issue by supporting the idea of letting voters decide, not the legislature. Yep, true leaders.
I feel most voters would vote the idea down. I could be wrong though – more property owners vote than poor people do.
And property owners are set to benefit from a sales tax, while poor people won’t benefit in any way, shape or form.
Democrats will be quick to cite many ways they do benefit – such as better roads for the cars they don’t own – but these arguments fall flat.
Democrats also love to trot out the ‘luxury goods’ argument, saying that taxing such items as beer and fast food would benefit the community.
Yeah, it’ll benefit the rich guy living on the hill, but it ain’t gonna do shit for us living down in the trenches.
All I can say is thank God the Republicans currently hold the Montana Legislature, and thank God the Democrats have no idea how to win it back.
If this wasn’t the case, we’d all be paying more for everyday items…something that saves the rich man money on his tax bill while saddling the rest of us with an increased cost of living in a state that’s already hard-as-hell to get by in.
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Grant, Cole. “Barrett proposes constitutional amendment removing sales tax option.” Missoula Current. 24 March 2017. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/government/2017/03/montana-legislature-sales-tax/
Johnson, Chuck. “Legislature hears first of local-option sales tax bills.” Bozeman Daily Chronicle. 14 March 2017. https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/mtleg/legislature-hears-first-of-local-option-sales-tax-bills/article_c7cacb5e-43c3-5b19-b08a-a974e8a46998.html
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Kidston, Martin. “Missoula County adopts FY 19 budget, urges state to explore other revenue streams.” Missoula Current. 23 August 2018. https://missoulacurrent.com/government/2018/08/missoula-county-budget-3/
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“Raising the Bar: A Competitive Realities Report and Target Industry Strategy for Missoula, Montana.” Garner Economics, LLC. 1 June 2018. http://www.missoulapartnership.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Missoula_Final-Report__v7.pdf
Retana, Judith. “Proposed Bozeman city manager’s salary $148,500.” NBC Montana. 6 October 2017. https://nbcmontana.com/news/local/proposed-bozeman-city-managers-salary-148500
Tabish, Dillon. “Montana Infrastructure Coalition Supports Local-Option Sales Tax.” Flathead Beacon. 29 November 2016. https://flatheadbeacon.com/2016/11/29/montana-infrastructure-coalition-supports-local-option-sales-tax/