Gianforte to GOP Legislature – deliver on housing, tax relief


Caven Wade

HELENA – Gov. Greg Gianforte told the Montana Legislature in his second State of the State speech that he expects lawmakers to address issues like child care, tax relief, and affordable housing. 

“We laid out an ambitious agenda with our sights set on building a place where more Montanans are realizing the American dream,” Gianforte said. “We know our journey is far from over. We still face challenges, but with each challenge comes an opportunity; an opportunity to grow together and grow stronger.”

He touted his plan to give a large portion of the state’s more than $2 billion budget surplus back to Montanans in the form of lower income taxes and property tax breaks. He also lauded Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras for leading his “Red-Tape Relief” initiative.

The package contains more than 160 bills in the 2023 session that would remove what he and his supporters call burdensome or unnecessary government regulations.

In a rebuttal from the Democratic Caucus following the governor’s speech, Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula, said Gianforte’s proposals do not do enough to support lower and middle-class Montanans.

“I’d like to share with you what it’s really like to be a Montanan, not the multi-millionaires who come here to buy a fifth or sixth house, but those hardworking Montana families who drive our state forward,” O’Brien said. “Honestly, and no offense to him, the governor is out of touch.”

The governor said he recognizes the burden that finding childcare has put on Montana families in the last several years and outlined proposals like House Bill 268, which would give $1,200 to families for each child under the age of five.

He also praised Kalispell Republican Rep. Courtenay Sprunger’s bill to give adoption tax credits. House Bill 225 would provide $5,000 to Montana families who adopt children, which would increase to $7,500 for adopted children in the state foster-care system.

“Our kids, and Montana’s future, depend on strong families, and we must help them prosper,” Gianforte said.

O’Brien said the governor’s childcare plan does not address the crisis that the state is facing. She said the tax credit is too small and that good childcare can cost $1,000 a month.

Democrats said they are focused on establishing scholarships and putting caps on co-pays so that Montanans can pay for childcare.

“We Montana Democrats know that the issue of child care affects our families, the businesses who cannot find workers because parents are staying at home due to lack of care, and the childcare businesses who, every day, care for our little ones,” O’Brien said.

When talking about his tax program, which would provide about $1 million in tax breaks for Montanans, the governor said residents must keep more of their income, especially with the increased inflation.

The tax package includes House Bill 212, which increases equipment tax exemptions, House Bill 222, which would give $500 million in property tax rebates over the next two years, Senate Bill 15, which provides tax credits to renters and homeowners and Senate Bill 121, which lowers the top income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%  for married couples making more than $41,000 and for individuals making more than $20,500.

“Ultimately, it isn’t the government’s money. It’s the money of hardworking Montanans who earn it,” Gianforte said.

Democrats say the governor has no real solution to tax burdens and instead is using the “old Republican playbook” by giving relief to the wealthiest Montanans and not moving the needle for the working class.

They believe that the $2 billion surplus should lay out long-term tax relief instead of giving one-time cash payments to Montanans.

“We should be looking for consistency, so your taxes don’t skyrocket, and fairness for working people. The administration is failing at both,” O’Brien said.

The affordable housing crisis was also in the spotlight for both parties. The governor created a bipartisan task force last year to find ways to make renting and housing costs more affordable. 

The task force came up with the HOMES Program, which would spend $200 million on expanding water and sewer infrastructure to supply more housing capacity throughout the state.

Democrats and O’Brien said that the “red-tape initiative” doesn’t address the housing shortage and that Montana businesses can’t grow if workers can’t afford to live in the state.

The Democratic plan, O’Brien said, would use $500 million of the surplus to help landlords keep rent at a reasonable price, reduce regulations that make it hard to build and help working Montanans avoid taxation that would force them out of their homes.

“The rising cost of rent, being able to afford a mortgage or pay your property taxes, it is all out of your control, and it’s simply not fair,” O’Brien said.

The governor also addressed the fentanyl epidemic and used the issue to call out the Biden administration on the United States’ southern border security.

“I have a message for President Biden and members of Congress: Secure our southern border now. Stop neglecting it. Secure it. The safety of our communities, our families, and our people depends on it,” Gianforte said.

He said that drug addictions and violent crime threaten the Montana way of life and that the fentanyl crisis is a consequence of an unsecured southern border.

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