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Articles written by Eric Dietrich

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  • Updated: Applications for state property tax assistance programs now June 1

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Apr 24, 2024

    Low-income Montanans seeking help paying their property tax bills now have until June 1 to apply for aid through two state relief programs administered by the Montana Department of Revenue — including the flagship Property Tax Assistance Program intended to keep property tax bills from forcing low-income homeowners out of their homes. This year’s application deadline, previously set for April 15, was extended in an effort to give Montanans facing substantial tax hardship more time to apply, Gov. Greg Gianforte and the Montana Department of Rev...

  • Veto override push on long-debated marijuana money bill falls short

    Eric Dietrich and Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Montana Free Press|Apr 24, 2024

    A veto override effort on a much-debated marijuana revenue bill that initially passed the Montana Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support last year has failed, according to poll results released Friday afternoon. The override poll, conducted by a mail ballot by the Montana secretary of state’s office over the last month, attracted only 41 “yes” votes from state representatives and 24 from state senators — well short of the 67-vote and 34-vote two-thirds margins required for a successful veto override. An additional 14 represe...

  • Gianforte announces Montana National Guard deployment to Texas border

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Apr 10, 2024

    Gov. Greg Gianforte announced last week that the state is deploying a small number of Montana National Guard troops to the nation's southern border, describing the action as an effort to help the state of Texas police cross-border drug trafficking in light of what he described as inaction by the federal government. According to the announcement, 10 Montana National Guardsmen have volunteered for active duty as part of Texas' Operation Lone Star. The Guardsmen are scheduled to arrive in Texas...

  • Property taxes put governor and local government leaders at odds

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Apr 3, 2024

    The supplemental property tax bills heading to property owners around the state this spring, made necessary by a November Supreme Court decision, represent a monumental headache for both local tax officials and homeowners. They also illustrate how the tax issue has driven a wedge between Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican seeking re-election this year, and local government leaders across Montana's political spectrum. Nearly all of the dollars collected by Montana's property tax system flow,... Full story

  • Supplemental tax bills heading toward many Montana property owners

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Mar 20, 2024

    Last year, during a dispute with Gov. Greg Gianforte over the state's "95 mill" school equalization property tax, officials with 49 of Montana's 56 counties chose to reduce their fall tax bills against the wishes of the Montana Department of Revenue. This month, after landing on the losing side of a November Montana Supreme Court ruling, those counties' treasurers are left with the thankless task of sending supplemental property tax bills to hundreds of thousands of property owners across the...

  • Gianforte says statewide sales tax off the table as his property tax task force gears up

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Feb 21, 2024

    Addressing his property tax task force at the group's first formal meeting Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte had two big messages: Figure out how to bring some permanent tax relief to Montana homeowners - and don't do it by recommending a statewide sales tax. "As we and all Montanans know too well, property taxes are too high. That's why we're here - Montana homeowners need relief," Gianforte said, detailing a list of goals that includes slowing how fast property taxes are growing and making it...

  • Do you earn tips? Montana now taxes them.

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jan 24, 2024

    Among several changes to Montana’s income tax system that took effect at the beginning of the year is a provision that makes income from tips subject to state taxes. The shift aligns Montana with the federal tax system, in which tips have long been taxed alongside salaries and wages. It also means that many service-sector workers will likely have their state income tax obligation increased by hundreds of dollars a year. The change was made by the 2021 Legislature as part of Senate Bill 399, a comprehensive reform measure that reshaped many p... Full story

  • Judge blocks two pro-construction housing laws

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jan 10, 2024

    A Gallatin County District Court judge has blocked two laws passed by the 2023 Montana Legislature that aimed to promote housing affordability by forcing cities to permit denser development in existing neighborhoods. The recent order, by Judge Mike Salvagni, prevented the two laws from taking effect as scheduled on Jan. 1 while litigation of a legal challenge filed by a Bozeman-based homeowners group last month proceeds. The order doesn’t change the status of two other laws that are also challenged by the same lawsuit, including one that broadl... Full story

  • Homeowner group files court challenge against pro-construction housing laws

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jan 3, 2024

    A lawsuit filed late last month by a coalition of homeowners challenges the constitutionality of four bipartisan laws passed by this year’s Legislature in an effort to tackle Montana’s housing shortage by encouraging proactive land use planning and making it easier to build homes in situations where construction has been hampered by local zoning rules. The Bozeman-based plaintiff group, Montanans Against Irresponsible Densification, or MAID, describes itself as a group of members who live in neighborhoods “characterized by single-family homes... Full story

  • Federal judge blocks Montana's first-in-nation TikTok ban

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Dec 6, 2023

    A federal judge issued an order Thursday blocking Montana's first-of-its-kind ban on social media platform TikTok, preventing the ban from taking effect as scheduled on Jan. 1. The ban, which passed this year's Legislature as Senate Bill 419, would have barred TikTok from making its app available to Montana users. By blocking the ban while a legal challenge moves forward, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy signals that he believes the company and other plaintiffs have a good chance of... Full story

  • Montana Supreme Court says counties wrong on 95-mill tax issue

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Nov 29, 2023

    The Montana Supreme Court ruled last week against Montana county governments in a dispute over the Montana Department of Revenue's authority to order the full collection of the 95-mill state-level school equalization levy, a formerly obscure piece of tax bills that became a flash-point this fall as state and local officials contended with frustration over rising property taxes. The ruling means that the 49 of 56 Montana counties that chose to collect a lower, 77.9-mill rate on tax bills sent to...

  • NorthWestern Energy electric rates higher than regional peers

    Amanda Eggert and Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Nov 15, 2023

    Montana's utility regulation commission has come under criticism recently for an agreement that lets the state's largest power company, NorthWestern Energy, implement a substantial residential electric rate increase. With some help from retired MTN News reporter (and occasional MTFP contributor) Mike Dennison, we've compiled a comparison of the residential electricity rates charged by different utilities around the region, estimating the typical monthly electric bills paid by residential... Full story

  • About 3/4 of eligible homeowners apply for Montana property tax rebates

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Oct 11, 2023

    The Montana Department of Revenue said Wednesday it received more than 226,600 applications for homeowner property tax rebates during the application period that closed Oct. 2 — a figure that, MTFP calculates, represents about three-quarters of eligible homeowners. The property tax rebates, up to $675 per homeowner, were authorized by this year’s Montana Legislature and Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican. Lawmakers, who also authorized a similar round of rebates for next year, allocated about $350 million from the state’s budget surplus to pa...

  • Montana counties, governor spar over property tax that funds schools

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Sep 27, 2023

    Months of finger-pointing between state-level Republicans and local government leaders over who to blame for rising property taxes escalated last week as the lobbying organization that represents county governments sent a late-night press release that, among other points, singled out Gov. Greg Gianforte’s personal property tax bill. The release, sent by the Montana Association of Counties at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, said the association’s math shows that taxes on Gianforte’s personal home in Helena’s mansion district neighborhood are likely... Full story

  • New census data helps define Montana's affordable housing crunch

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Sep 27, 2023

    Just how deep do Montana's widely discussed housing affordability woes run? Newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds some statistical light on one facet of the challenge. Housing affordability is a product of two things: how much it costs people to keep a roof over their heads, and how much income they have to pay for it. While Montana has seen ballooning housing prices in recent years, the state's population is also earning more. The census figures indicate the median monthly... Full story

  • What ballooning home values mean for one tenant and her landlord

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Aug 23, 2023

    Sara Feilzer was feeling the heat of Montana's boiling-hot housing prices last year. Her home, a quirky one-and-a-half-bedroom basement apartment she has rented in central Helena since 2018, was heading for the maelstrom of the open real estate market. Her then-landlord, a coworker, had watched home prices climb for years through the COVID-19 pandemic and determined they couldn't pass up the opportunity to sell. As a result, she found herself in an unwelcome situation that's become familiar to... Full story

  • What are Montana's busiest highways?

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Aug 2, 2023

    It's the time of year when it seems like everybody and their dog is hitting the road for summer trips, so we thought we'd take a look at which stretches of Montana highway rank as the busiest. As it turns out, according to data from the Montana Department of Transportation, the state's highway hot spots tend to cluster around urban areas. A stretch of King Avenue West in Billings just north of Interstate 90 has the dubious distinction of being the busiest road in the state, with about 40,000...

  • Five ways to lower Montana's residential property taxes

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jul 19, 2023

    Homeowners across Montana received a nasty shock in the mail last month, coming in the form of state property reappraisal notices that generally indicated the 2023 valuations used to calculate property taxes have spiked over the two-year reappraisal cycle. It’s unlikely those valuation increases, 46% on median statewide, will translate into equivalent increases when country treasurers mail out actual property tax bills this fall. That’s because the tax estimates included on the reappraisal notices don’t account for how across-the-board value...

  • Department of Revenue Notices: Notices: Are your property taxes going up?

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Jun 28, 2023

    If you’re fortunate enough to own a home in Montana, keep an eye out in the coming weeks for a reappraisal notice from the state Department of Revenue that will tell you how much the property value used to calculate your tax bill has changed over the last two years. Given Montana’s soaring housing prices, those notices may cause a few heart attacks. Revenue analysts told lawmakers last November that they expected residential property values to in-crease by a whopping 43% on average between 2022 and 2023. It’s tricky, however, to tell precisely... Full story

  • How the 2023 Legislature tried to tackle Montana's housing crunch

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|May 17, 2023

    by Eric Dietrich Montana Free Press This is news to no one: Montana is facing a historic housing crunch. Population growth, much of it driven by in-migration, has spurred demand for homes and apartments beyond available supply in many if not most of the state’s communities. According to real estate website Zillow, the state’s typical home value was nearly $428,000 as of March, up from $267,000 at the beginning of 2020. Higher rents, too, make it increasingly hard for businesses to find workers. In particularly tight markets such as Boz...

  • Gianforte signals he'll sign TikTok ban - but prefers changes first

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|May 3, 2023

    Gov. Greg Gianforte is pushing for revisions to a proposed ban on the social media platform TikTok passed by the Legislature this month, suggesting the bill's backers amend its provisions to apply to all social media platforms that allow users' personal data to be provided to nations classified as "foreign adversaries." The change, Gianforte's office has argued, would make the ban easier to defend from court challenges. However, the governor's staff has also told the ban's supporters that he is...

  • Pro-housing zoning bills advance, but big funding remains in limbo

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Apr 26, 2023

    A slate of zoning bills intended to spur home construction by limiting how local governments can regulate housing development appears headed toward passage following votes on the floor of the Montana House in recent weeks. However, bills that would put money from the state’s $2.5 billion budget surplus toward housing affordability remain in limbo as the Legislature enters the final weeks of its 2023 session. Home prices and rents have soared across Montana in recent years, in part because rapid in-migration has crowded the state’s finite supply... Full story

  • House joins Senate in endorsing Montana TikTok ban

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Apr 19, 2023

    The Montana House followed the lead of the state Senate Thursday to endorse a statewide ban on the social media platform TikTok. Senate Bill 419, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Vance, R-Belgrade, would bar the platform's China-based parent company, ByteDance, from allowing "the operation of tiktok by the company or users" inside Montana's "territorial jurisdiction" as long as the platform is owned by a company based in China or another country designated a "foreign adversary" by the federal... Full story

  • Gianforte signs $1 billion Republican tax rebate, tax-cut package into law

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Mar 22, 2023

    Flanked by dozens of Republican lawmakers on the steps of the state Capitol, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a tax cut, rebate and spending package totalling more than $1 billion last week. The eight-bill package, which provides short-term property and income tax rebates and also cuts state income taxes on an ongoing basis, puts a major slice of the state's estimated $2.5 billion budget surplus toward what the governor called "the largest tax cut in Montana history." The bills also cut the state's... Full story

  • Montana's housing puzzle at the legislative halftime

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Mar 15, 2023

    There’s broad bipartisan agreement in the Montana Capitol that rising housing costs, driven by the state’s finite supply of homes and rapid in-migration from other states, rank among the most pressing issues facing Montana residents. According to real estate website Zillow, the typical home price in Montana was $430,000 in January, a slight dip from last summer, but an increase of nearly double in five years. Anecdotal evidence indicates that rents are also a major pain point for many residents, particularly in tight markets around Boz...

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