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Property tax initiative doesn’t get enough signatures

by KEITH SCHUBERT Daily Montanan
| July 2, 2022 1:00 AM

A constitutional initiative to put a cap on residential property taxes will not appear on the November ballot.

Numbers from the Montana Secretary of State showed the Constitutional Initiative 121 only received about 5,000 of the 60,359 signatures necessary. While July 15 is the deadline for county election administrators to file certified ballot issue petitions in the Secretary of State’s Office, one of the initiative’s principal backers, Matthew Monforton, threw in the towel on Thursday.

Monforton, a Bozeman attorney and former state lawmaker, blamed the courts and the secretary of state’s office for the failure.

“We fell short due to a left-wing judge illegally enjoining signature-gathering. Additionally, a conglomerate of liberal special interests and tax-and-spend Republicans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve a property tax system that punishes homeowners. We received nearly 20,000 signatures that we couldn’t turn in because the Secretary of State’s office ruled that the brochure we used for the signatures incorrectly underlined the wrong portion of the text of the initiative,” he said.

Earlier this year, while litigation played out over the initiative, a Lewis and Clark County District Judge placed a preliminary injunction on signature gathering for about two weeks.

But, he said, the fight is not over yet: “The Legislature is addicted to overtaxing homeowners. This is a problem that is not going away. We will circulate a new initiative beginning in June 2023, which will give us plenty of time to qualify for the November 2024 ballot.”

Many groups, including the Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Association of Realtors, and agricultural and development groups, fought against the measure.

Lee Newspapers reported a political committee dedicated to fighting the initiative raised more than $330,000 since the beginning of the year and spent more than $300,000 through June 25. And the group backing the initiative raised less than $2,000 over the same period.

Know the Consequences, NO on CI-121, an opposition committee to the initiative, celebrated on Thursday.

“This outcome is the best possible outcome for all Montanans,” said Ron Ostberg, campaign treasurer of the committee, in a statement. “As a small farmer and rancher, CI-121 would have harmed not just my community but my livelihood. I am proud all our hard work paid off. I’m glad Montanans saw this was not the right way to address these critical issues facing our state.”

Amanda Curtis, president of MFPE, echoed his message.

“We are proud of the citizens of Montana for recognizing the hidden consequences that CI-121 would have brought to our state,” she said.

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