A dispute regarding the proposed initiative that would cap property taxes in the state of Montana has been left to the District Court to settle. Montana residents hoping to start the process that would change part of the state’s constitution must wait longer while the district resolves the dispute over the current block placed on signature gathering. Proponents of these changes appealed to the state’s Supreme Court when the District Court temporarily blocked their ability to collect the signatures necessary to add a ballot adoption. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, stating that the District Court was capable of doing so. As a result, the Lewis and Clark District Court will hear the case.
This attention comes in response to a movement to limit how much property taxes can increase. If allowed, Montanans would see item CI-121 on upcoming ballots. If voters pass the initiative, the state’s constitution would be amended to limit annual property tax increases to either 2% or the current inflation rate on most properties (on top of the initial assessment which cannot exceed 1% of the property value). Properties built, significantly improved, or sold after January 1, 2019, would not be subject to the change. Furthermore, this proposal targets only residential properties, giving a potential break to Montana homeowners.
According to a 2021 law change, proponents first submitted the proposal to Montana’s Secretary of State, Christi Jacobsen, and Attorney General, Austin Knudsen to examine a proposal’s potential negative impact on businesses. Although signatures can still be collected if they would impact businesses, petitions must inform signers of potential harm to those businesses.
Initially, officials gave the approval to a group behind the proposed initiative to begin gathering signatures. However, alleged concerns about the estimated $150 million annual revenue loss that would incur because of this proposed initiative paused this plan. Opponents accused the duo of failing to properly vet the proposed initiative before it was given the green light. A group consisting of MFPE and the Farmers Union petitioned the Lewis and Clark District Court for a restraining order against the collection of signatures earlier this month.
Proponents cannot get the measure on the ballot without acquiring signatures from at least 10% of Montana’s voters, or just over 60,000 signatures. At least 40 of Montana’s 100 house districts must be represented on the petition. Attorney Matt Monforton (who first submitted the proposal to government officials for approval to collect signatures and the appeal to the Montana Supreme Court after the district court placed the block) argues that this measure is important to allow residents to keep their homes. He accused the opponents of filing a “frivolous lawsuit” that showed their lack of care for Montana’s homeowners.
If passed, CI-121 wouldn’t be the first of its kind in the union. Both California and Florida have similar property tax limits in their constitutions, thanks to voter-approved amendments in 1978 and the 1990s, respectively. Proposals in both states were the center of controversies before they ultimately passed. It seems Montanans have similar concerns nearly three decades later.