We are facing critical questions on Nov. 5: What kind of city do we want to be? Do we want to stay a small mountain town that welcomes all folks regardless of race, background or income; or do we want to be a destination city for wealthy out-of-staters?
Over the past decade, under the leadership of our Missoula establishment, housing has become more unaffordable, wages have remained stagnant and income inequality has skyrocketed. These policy failures are the result of a lack of ideological diversity in our local government and are turning Missoula into a country club for the very rich. Taxes continue to rise, regulations continue to drive up the cost of housing. Wealthy corporations continue to receive millions of dollars in taxpayer handouts through tax increment financing.
We are hearing that incumbent candidates care deeply about property taxes and will listen to the citizens and lessen the property tax burden. But what does history tell us? Look at your property tax bill. These same folks blame the schools, the county and voter-approved bonds for your ever-rising property taxes, which is in part true. However, the city is just as guilty. Look at the city portion of your property tax bill, as well as the road and park special assessments, all of which are the direct responsibility of the city government, and you will see nothing but steep increases year after year equal to or exceeding the other taxing jurisdictions mentioned.
The solution for these candidates isn’t to analyze the budget, look for inefficiencies, explore zero-based budgeting or to re-examine the tax increment financing policy which gives money to corporations. It is to continue to seek more revenue through a local option sales tax. A local option sales tax is exactly what it sounds like, a sales tax; the products that will be taxed are currently unknown but if the power is given to the city, it could be anything. It seems likely that the “tourist” tax will start with hotels and rental cars but make no mistake, a local option sales tax will end up impacting your pocketbook.
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The local options sales tax is promised as a way to reduce property taxes, but never does. Everywhere it is implemented it is merely added onto the current property tax burden. In many cases the cities will still raise property taxes year after year but call it a reduction by saying property taxes didn’t go up as much because of the sales tax. The good news is that a local options sales tax is not currently allowed under state law.
Missoula drastically needs to shift course if we really want to remain the Missoula we all know and love. We need candidates who have different solutions to the problems we face in the community. Democracy is meant to essentially be a competition of ideas that are hashed out by elected officials with rigorous debate and giving us the best solution. Meaningful policy debate in the City Council stopped about 15 years ago when like-minded ideologues took office. We need new council members with fresh ideas not the same ideas that have led us down the road we are currently on.
I cannot effectively fight for the working class and lower-income folks in our community when I am constantly outvoted 11-1 on key issues. Help me by voting for Team Liberty: Amber Shaffer (Ward 1), Brent Sperry (Ward 2), Alan Ault (Ward 4), John Contos (Ward 5) and Sandra Vasecka (Ward 6). It is critical that you vote. Turnout is always low in local elections, with good turnout we can win in every ward.