The Gianforte campaign has suggested for months that their focus is on improving Montana’s business climate—and the one-time software entrepreneur has used that “focus” as cover for his refusal to answer almost every other question he’s faced from the media and members of the public. Whether it’s been his almost-certain support for deeply discriminatory laws that would drive businesses and tourists from Montana to his even more certain support for Right to Work legislation, Mr. Gianforte has steadfastly refused to let Montana voters know his values, and used his promises to improve business in Montana as cover for his cowardly silence.
But today, he finally announced that he was going to roll out a policy initiative: his tax plan for the state. And what was his plan? A strategy to move Montana from a healthy surplus and sensible tax policy that supports schools and local business to a plan that cuts taxes for those who earn the most, driving Montana into a deficit, which isn’t just poor policy, but not allowed by law.
When Gianforte plans to phase out the business tax, what he doesn’t tell Montana voters is that Governor Bullock already eliminated the business tax for most small and medium-sized businesses in the state. In fact, as the Billings Gazette noted back in 2013, the law signed by Governor Bullock eliminated the business tax for two-thirds of Montana businesses. The remaining businesses are not the small enterprises that drive local employment and spending, but larger concerns that can certainly afford to their fair share. According to the state, the reduced business tax still brought in $81 million dollars last year, with over 75% of that amount going to schools and local safety.
Gianforte’s plan to reduce the top tax rate from 6.9% to 6% would, according to the Department of Revenue, cost the state $125 million dollars annually. And Mr. Gianforte offered no plan to offset that lost revenue other than vague assurances that he could freeze the cost of state government and magically manage to adequately invest in infrastructure with less revenue.
The Republican myth that lowering taxes and slashing government services is some kind of sensible fiscal policy is being exploded across the country, as the disasters of Kansas and Louisiana have ably demonstrated. Voodoo economics may have been in vogue in 1980, but today’s fiscal challenges and budget policy questions deserve serious discussion from serious candidates, not soundbites from people whose faith in trickle-down economics should have been shattered by evidence and example.
Montanans deserve a real set of policy proposals, not something that could have been crafted by some Liberty Bros who post “Taxation is theft” on their Facebook pages, the intellectual equivalent of what Mr. Gianforte offered up today.