By JOE MCCARTY
As predicted and right on schedule the legislature and governor have turned state government into a version of Alice in Wonderland. Up is down and good is bad. There is frenzied work to use the 90-day session to adopt solutions to nonexistent problems and ignore solutions to the very real problems.
The Montana business community believed that the folks they elected would actually work on real problems to support our economy which is still reeling from the pandemic. City and county commissions expected that the legislators who came from these places would actually support locally elected officials and work to provide needed support. Educators believed that the governor and legislature would work to strengthen all levels of public education. Public health professionals expected that they would be supported for doing their job. And of course, the citizens expected to be treated fairly and with respect.
It is hard for average folks to make much sense of what passes for legislation. The up is down approach starts with the governor and legislature putting concealed guns in classrooms and campus
dorms and calling it a safety measure which defies common sense, and despite the strong opposition from administrators, educators and police officials. This may be exhibit A in developing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist and then lying to us.
Affordable housing is a challenge for every Montana city of any size. That the Legislature taking away one of the few tools available to cities to manage the problem is hard to understand.
We’re told that up is down and by removing a city-adopted affordable housing tool we’ll have — you guessed it — more affordable housing. The builders and realtors have come up with this story
without any facts. Importantly they fail to support both their direct interest in an economically healthy community and their bottom lines. All this fantasy supported by the “less government”
legislators who remove local solutions in favor of state government restrictions.
Our state has a tax structure that is decades out of step with our economy. This isn’t new news to most folks, but doesn’t penetrate the political party bubble that calls for tax reductions for wealthy folks because that will help working families. Seriously. The studies that the department of revenue or the legislature have produced that realistically approach various solutions are routinely shelved and little discussed. Fair tax reform is difficult and takes skill and ability which sadly many legislators lack. The storm approaching is easy to see.
Coal production will continue to decline and likely oil and gas production will decline over the coming years, reducing taxes.
Service business long ago became far larger than agriculture. Gas powered vehicles are going away leaving fuel taxes at risk. Tourist spending (untaxed) is an important component of our economy
even in a pandemic.
Of equal importance with a fair tax structure is the complicated process of spending our precious tax dollars in the right places and in the right amounts. Montana’s needs have always outstripped
taxes which puts the burden on all levels of government to make smart choices. Local voters have consistently supported added taxes for public schools, public safety, parks, conservation and a host of other local priorities.
The legislature ignores the clear message from their own communities and takes off with spending public dollars for private religious schools, while failing to adequately support community
mental health, early education and community colleges.
State elected officials seem hellbent on turning this wonderful place into some version of Afghanistan. Tribal loyalty is required for everything from guns for kids and restricting women’s rights to tax money for religious organizations. Down is up. Our long tradition of libertarianism and effective local government is being replaced by a swaggering group roaming the capitol halls and dismantling a functioning and fair state government while telling us how wonderful they are.
The humor writer Dave Barry said in a non-humorous piece: “You must fight the urge to bend the story to your preconceived notions. First, it’s dishonest. Second, in the end the truth is always
the best story.” “It’s curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice.
Joe McCarty lives in Bozeman.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 2/24/21