What the Tax Bill Means for Montanans: No More Tax Deductions for Wildfires

When Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte were fighting for massive cuts for themselves under the guise of offering tax relief for working Americans, they had to find ways to cut existing deductions to transfer those savings to themselves. Over the next few weeks, while the two houses of Congress meet to put lipstick on this bloated pig of a bill, we plan to highlight some of the sacrifices Representative Gianforte and Senator Daines want you to make while they take home ever increasing amounts of the nation’s wealth.

First up is the deduction for natural disasters, including wildfires which often bring devastation to Montana. As the LA Times notes:

The House Republican tax bill would eliminate the deduction for personal losses from wildfires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, but keep the break for victims of the recent severe hurricanes. While the bill preserved breaks for the recent hurricanes in Republican-dominated Texas, it will make it very hard for victims of wildfires to recoup some of their losses going forward:

But such bills would be difficult to pass for smaller scale incidents that still are devastating to the victims, said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch). “Let’s say your home burns down and it isn’t a disaster that CNN covers,” he said. “You’re affected the same way, whether it’s nine of your neighbors or 900 of your neighbors that lose homes.”

While the House version eliminated the deduction, the Senate version would allow the deduction for “federally declared disasters,” something the Times notes almost never happens for wildfires. The Daily Beast points out what the bill would mean for a Montanan who lost her house to a wildfire not large enough to get federal disaster recognition:

Under the Senate bill, as one Democratic aide noted, if your house burnt down in a fire and the president didn’t declare it a natural disaster, you would not be able to take a deduction. Ultimately, the two chambers will have to hash out the differences between their two bills in conference committee. And where they end up could have massive ramifications for natural disaster victims going forward.

Ultimately, despite all the rhetoric about tax cuts, this proposal represents a tax hike on those who have suffered natural disasters. As Salon notes, this particular tax hike doesn’t, unlike much of the tax deal, harm blue state voters, but it targets even states like Montana that voted for Trump:

Nevertheless, the very fact that Republicans thought it would be an excellent idea to raise taxes on victims of natural disasters is astonishingly tone-deaf and downright vindictive. But unlike other actions by President Trump that appear to be deliberately aimed at punishing his opponents, this time Republicans aren’t just sticking it to poor and middle class families. They’re also punishing red-state voters as well.

In Montana, this past fire season, 1.2 million acres burned, and it’s worth remembering that the Trump administration played political games with federal disaster relief and recognition. What’s more, the proposed Trump budget imposes massive cuts on Wildland Fire Management and his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke repeatedly voted against adequate budgets for wildfire relief and assistance to firefighters.

And now Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines voted for a tax bill that will make it even harder for Montanans to recover from fire loss, even as those fires are likely to be more dangerous in the future. When Steve Daines put on a theatrical display suggesting he would vote against the bill, it wasn’t to protect Montanans who lose their homes in wildfires; it was to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from public works to the hands of a very small group of the very wealthy.

This bill is bad for Montana. Let Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte know that we won’t sacrifice our neighbors so people like the two of them can line their pockets and please the donors who bought them at a discount.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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