Greg Gianforte has drastically underpaid his share of taxes for a 5.01-acre parcel of land in Gallatin County, depriving taxpayers of significant revenue while neighbors literally across the street paid tax rates 2700 times higher than his own.
A search of the Montana Cadastral system reveals that Mr. Gianforte owns a 5.01-acre piece of land in Gallatin County that has an appraised tax value of $223. A source at the Department of Revenue indicates that the tax paid on that land would “hardly be worth the cost of mailing an invoice,” while neighbors were likely paying closer to $1500 per acre for land in an identical condition in the same neighborhood.
Contextually, the valuation makes no sense. Directly across the street to the east, another undeveloped property is listed as having a land value of $346,234 for 2.85 acres ($121,488/acre). Across the street to the south, a 10.2-acre plot is listed with a value of $1,511,888 ($148,224/acre).
Gianforte’s land? $44.50 an acre.
That appraisal value of $223 for Mr. Gianforte’s property lists the land as “non-qualified ag land,” status the Department of Revenue says is available to parcels of land under 160 acres only if the property is at least one acre in size, used “in an agricultural manner,” and capable of producing $1,500 of annual gross income from livestock or crops.
Photos of the parcel demonstrate that it certainly is not used for agricultural production: there is no fence to keep livestock in and no crops are being produced. In fact, when sources visited the land today, they saw a landscaper doing work on the land, hardly something one would associate with agricultural production.
In addition, Mr. Gianfore listed no agricultural income on either his financial disclosure form when he ran for governor or Congress, and I could not locate any record of an application for an agricultural classification for the parcel.
The most likely scenario is that Gianforte’s land was originally part of an at least 20-acre parcel, qualifying it for the reduced tax rate and then not properly reclassified when subdivided.
According to Department of Revenue guidelines, parcels have to be between 20 and 160 acres to be classified as non-qualifying agricultural land. That’s the reason so many “ranchettes” are sold at 20.1 acres in Montana, to avoid significant property tax liability.
Because Mr. Gianforte’s land was not properly reclassified, he took an undeserved tax break that meant less money went to the state, Gallatin County, and area schools.
And all of this needs to be put in context. Mr. Gianforte spent millions of dollars lying in this campaign about his opponent’s financial record, distorting the truth about debt and taxes owed, while, the entire time, failing to pay his fair share of taxes on his property in Gallatin County.
It’s even more egregious when you remember that Mr. Gianforte claimed assets of as much as $327 million dollars when he filed for the House seat. Despite that vast personal wealth, despite his calls for personal responsibility and lack of sympathy for those who’ve endured economic hardship, Mr. Gianforte has been willing to take tax breaks meant for farmers while his neighbors paid tax rates 2700 times higher than his own. That’s rank hypocrisy of the highest order and should be discussed in this campaign.
Unfortunately, the press that has given so much attention to rental property not owned by Rob Quist has not paid attention to Mr. Gianforte’s tax situation.
Given the coverage of tax issues in this race by the Billings Gazette, two sources confirm they sent information about Gianforte’s tax records and land valuation to the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey, who inexplicably chose to ignore the story, despite running a series of inflammatory stories about Rob Quist’s taxes that were so riddled with errors that the Lee papers across the state had to run an opinion piece that stated “Tom Lutey doesn’t understand property rights and taxation law, in fact, even the headline was incorrect.”
It’s hard to understand why Greg Gianforte believes he doesn’t need to pay fair valuation for his land. It’s even harder to understand why the press chose not to hold him accountable for it. Perhaps these last two days will see some coverage of this latest example of Gianforte’s disregard for ordinary Montanans and willingness to put his interests ahead of those of the rest of the state.