When Montana legislators meet in January for the 2023 session, we’ll be walking in the door with over a billion dollars in the bank. Not from new taxes or debt – this is money that hard-working Malitans have already paid in taxes, but are just sitting idle. As the costs of basic necessities rise, it is critical that we put that money to work to lower costs for Montanans. There is a lot of grain in the grain bin and it is time to return that grain to the people who put it there in the first place.
And we have a plan to do just that. We can put $1 billion to work immediately to address the biggest crises hitting our wallets: the high cost of housing, rising property taxes, the lack of affordable child care, and the lack of mental health services. These are daunting challenges, but with bold solutions, we can overcome them.
In Missoula and Bozeman, working Mountaineers are living out of cars and RVs because they can’t find an affordable place to live. In Kalispell, Helena, Billings and many other communities across our state, rising housing costs are locking young Montanans out of home ownership and making it nearly impossible to find a place to rent. We know that the heart of this crisis is that the demand for housing exceeds our supply of housing. In 2019, Democrats passed a bill to put $15 million into building over 250 new apartments guaranteed to be affordable for working people. We want to supercharge this successful model by putting $500 million more into it and dramatically increase the supply of housing that Montanans looking to rent or own can afford.
But for many Montanans who are already fortunate enough to own their home, rising property values are pushing up property taxes. We can address this problem with immediate relief through a one-time property tax refund aimed at working families, not millionaires. In the long term, we can protect Montanans from rising property taxes through a measure that prevents property taxes from exceeding a certain portion of people’s incomes. In total, we can put $250 million back into Montanans’ pockets through property tax relief.
While housing takes up a larger portion of our paychecks, child care is eating up another portion of family budgets. Child care is a necessity, not a luxury, for working families, but it costs as much to put a child in daycare as it does to send a child to college. Meanwhile, child care spots are so scarce that we are meeting less than half of the demand in our state. This means there are communities where families can’t even find providers, even if they can afford them. We want to invest $125 million in getting new providers in child care deserts up and running, helping child care workers earn a living wage, and reducing out-of-pocket costs for families by expanding existing child care scholarships. children.
Unfortunately, nearly all Montanans have been affected by the impacts of our state’s mental health crisis. Montana has the third highest suicide rate in the nation, and one in five of our children has seriously considered suicide. We took an ax to our community-based mental health infrastructure in 2017 and never built it back up. We want to invest $125 million to rebuild community and school-based mental health treatment, including substance use treatment for those who need it. People should be able to access care close to home, where their friends and family are close by to help them through their struggles.
Every Montanan should be able to afford to live where they work, but it’s getting harder and harder for people. The people of Mali have already sent an extra billion dollars to Helena in taxes, and we think it makes sense to put that money in their pockets so they can live – and thrive – in the communities of theirs.
Make no mistake – this money will not come out of your checks; this money will not dip into our rainy day fund or our wildfire fund. The money to pay for these critical cost-cutting policies is sitting in a bank account in Helena. You already put it there. Now, it’s time to give some of it back.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, Sen. Pat Flowers, D-Bozeman, Sen. Shannon O’Brien, D-Missoula and Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena.