Groups challenge initiative to limit property tax changes

January 14, 2022 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Public employees and a farming organization are among those who filed a complaint arguing the attorney general and the secretary of state did not follow a new law in approving signature-gathering for a proposed constitutional initiative that would limit changes in residential property taxes.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Montana Farmers Union, realtor Jeff Barber, farmer Ron Ostberg and rancher Dennis McDonald filed their complaint Wednesday against Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

A law passed by the 2021 Legislature requires the attorney general to review ballot initiatives to see if they would impact any businesses and also requires the secretary of state to forward such initiatives to the Legislative Services Division for an interim legislative committee to consider the issue and vote on it.

The wording of the legislation refers to the review of “ballot issues.” The plaintiffs argue state law defines a ballot issue as “a proposal submitted to the people at an election for their approval or rejection, including, but not limited to an initiative, referendum, proposed constitutional amendment, recall question, school levy question, bond issue question, or ballot question.”

Spokespeople for Jacobsen and Knudsen said based on the way the law was written into state code, it applies only to initiatives seeking to change state law, not initiatives that would amend the constitution.

The complaint asks the court to block efforts to gather signatures for Constitutional Initiative 121.

State Auditor Troy Downing and attorney Matthew Monforton submitted CI-121 to the secretary of state for placement on the 2022 ballot.

The initiative would limit total residential property taxes to 1% or less of the assessed value and would limit annual increases or decreases in residential property valuations to 2%, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Market value assessments would be performed when property is sold or significantly improved, under the proposed amendment.