Success Stories

With Polling and Issues Mobilization Campaign, Montana REALTORS® Deny Ballot Access to Damaging Property Tax Initiative

October 2022

A “Decline to Sign” campaign aimed at Montana voters helped to keep a proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot; though the initiative sought to exploit widespread public angst over residential property taxes, it would actually have replaced the state’s market-value based property tax system with an acquisition-value based system that would dis-incentivize listings and shift the tax burden to anyone buying property in Montana.

Normally, when Montana REALTORS® are involved in property tax advocacy, they are fighting to keep the rates down.  But last spring, they found themselves oddly in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative whose backers claimed it would lower property taxes:  an amendment to the state constitution replacing the market-value based property tax system with an acquisition-value based system.  The REALTORS® understood that the proposal was not tax-relief, but a dangerous and permanent shifting of the tax burden that would actually hurt first-time buyers, downsizers, farmers, ranchers, small business owners — and basically anyone buying property in the state.  With help from the REALTOR® Party, they convinced Montana voters to deny it a chance on the November ballot.

“Aside from the unfair redistribution of the property tax burden, the proposal was essentially using tax policy to dis-incentivize people from listing their homes for sale,” explains Sam Sill, Montana REALTORS®’ Government Affairs Director.  “Of course, that’s a big red flag for the real estate industry, but we were successful in defeating this proposal because we recognized early on that it had the potential to hurt a broad range of Montana residents.  Leaning into that narrative, we were able to form a strong coalition with other groups concerned about the enormous impact of this policy change and its negative revenue implications for public schools and other tax-funded services.”

Extensive polling provided by the REALTOR® Party helped Montana REALTORS® determine how to present the complex tax issue to the voting public.  With further assistance from an Issues Mobilization Grant and their coalition partners, they mounted a campaign urging Montanans to “Decline to Sign” so that the measure would fail to qualify for the ballot.  The compelling digital ads (plus radio spots in rural areas) convinced enough of the public, and the opposition fell well short of collecting the 60K signatures required by law.  “Even for us professionals, Montana’s complicated property tax structure is a lot to grapple with, so we’re very relieved that our campaign’s distilled message resonated with Montana voters,” says Sill.  “There’s no question that NAR’s support really helped amplify it.”

The effort also highlights the fact that the state needs to find new sources of revenue to fund schools and other essential public services, he says.  “We’ll continue to put forward solutions and beat the drum with the governor and legislators about needing to do something about property taxes — or the people of Montana will do it for us.”

Sill, who has used the REALTOR® Party programs before, notes that the process was beneficial from start to finish: “The polling crew brought lots of insight to our situation and asked questions that made us think through things thoroughly.  That resulted in us having a stronger grant request and, ultimately, running a better campaign.”

To learn more about how Montana REALTORS® is defending the state’s property owners from bad tax policy, and helping Montana seek alternate sources of revenue, contact Government Affairs Director Sam Sill at sam@montanarealtors.org or 406-450-2837.

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