A Donald Trump quote, printed up on a large banner. A Christmas tree with empty gift boxes piled high underneath. Lumps of coal wrapped in ribbon. Greeting cards with messages informing Trump, CEOs and small business owners of the myriad ways the tax bill would affect them, in alarmingly cheerful tones given some of the dire results.

Sound like a happy holiday?

Not to Erin Erickson, or any of the other six panelists at Missoula Rises’ tax talk Monday afternoon, held to educate people about the bill and try and prevent it from being passed before Christmas, as some politicians have promised.

“It’s just the wrong way to go about setting economic policy and it’s dangerous,” private practice psychotherapist Alison Cobb said.

The panel, which included local business owners, economics professors and tax attorneys, covered the bill’s effects on Montanans’ rising taxes, access to a high-quality college education, affordable health care, ability to run small businesses and nonprofits, and national security.

Starting on the state level, the tax bill would worsen Montana’s budget crisis, which would likely mean state property tax increases to make up about $123 million in projected losses, said attorney and former legislator Andrew Person.

Some provisions of the bills would change the price index, pushing lower- and middle-income people into a higher tax bracket, according to a note from economics professor Amanda Dawsey, read by Erickson.

There are some small initial benefits to lower earners, Erickson said, but starting in 2020, those go away.

“If your family earns under $200,000, you will receive a tax increase,” she said.

In context, the median salary in Montana is $45,000, Erickson added, meaning a huge part of the Montana population falls in the sub-$200,000 range.

Heather Adams, the owner of the Downtown Dance Collective where Monday's talk was held, outlined how the tax bill will affect small businesses, a backbone of the Missoula economy, making up almost all of downtown.

Taxes on small businesses would rise, threatening locals who already operate with razor-thin margins, while lowering for major corporations.

“If middle-class wage growth is the plan, then give the middle class the bulk of the cuts and let the benefits trickle up,” Adams said.

Graduate student and teaching assistant Johnny Barber said the bill would make tuition waivers (a common way the university makes programs affordable) taxable income.

That would mean fewer graduate students at UM, which would mean fewer TAs in 100-level lecture courses. In those courses, TAs are the human faces who lead discussion classes with small student groups and grade all their work throughout the semester.

Barber said it would be “a threat to a large part of the Missoula economy, which is the university.”

Meredith Printz, the executive director of the Missoula Community Foundation, said the tax bill threatens to hobble nonprofits, also a large source of Montana’s economic growth.

More than 10 percent of the state’s workforce is employed by nonprofits, Printz said, and the incentive reductions in the tax bill could mean hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $1 trillion lost from the national nonprofit sector.

The bill will also lead to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security cuts, eliminate deductible medical expenses and raise the cost of insurance, Cobb said.  

“Without that deduction, it’s basically a health tax on the sick,” Cobb said, adding that Medicaid pays for around 50 percent of Montanans in long-term health care.

Erickson said Missoula Rises is taking a multi-faceted approach to opposing the tax bill, starting with its courthouse protest last week. Missoula Rises is a progressive social action group.

There are resources on its website, missoularises.com, and group members hold weekly work parties on Wednesday nights at Imagine Nation Brewery, where people learn how to contact their representatives through letters, email, social media and by phone.

Erickson encouraged every Montanan to contact their representatives, especially Rep. Greg Gianforte,  who hasn’t voted on the bill yet. Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines already voted against and for the tax bill respectively.

“We are to help educate (Gianforte),” Erickson said. “It should be Montana over party, every single time.”

She also encouraged people to have conversations about the bill with their friends and family. It’s a nonpartisan issue, Erickson said, so don’t be afraid of bringing it up over the holidays. 

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City, County Government Reporter

Government reporter for the Missoulian.