Request For Proposals: Strategic Planning Services

The Montana Budget & Policy Center (MBPC) is looking for consulting services to facilitate and support the organization’s board and staff retreat focused on developing a three-year strategic plan. A core focus of that plan will be to deepen MBPC’s work and commitment to racial equity. A PDF of the full RFP can be found here.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization created in 2008 to provide in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. Our mission is to advance responsible tax, budget, and economic policies through credible research and analysis in order to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

We advocate for policies to ensure that everyone can share in the state’s prosperity. We produce reports and policy recommendations on a range of issues that create a fair opportunity for everyone to work, learn, and improve their lives.

Timeline

We will begin reviewing submissions on May 15 and hope to finalize a contract by June 1. Over the summer, the facilitator will work with MBPC leadership to design the format and objectives for a board and staff retreat, scheduled for September 29-30, 2021, in Missoula. It is the preference to have the facilitator in person if public safety allows. Post retreat, the facilitator will compile information gathered at the retreat and work with MPBC leadership and staff to develop a concise strategic plan with the goal of that process completed by November 2021. MBPC staff will have board approve the written plan at its December board meeting. We look to have the facilitator work with MBPC until consensus is reached.

Organizational Context

  • MBPC has a team of 10 with relatively stable grant funding to maintain this level of capacity.
  • MBPC staff and board had a retreat in 2020 focused on racial and ethnicity equity and inclusion (REEI) and have committed to further relationship-building (with each other and staff) and centering REEI in both internal and external organizational work. However, the pursuit of racial equity is a journey, and members of staff and the board are at a variety of places in their learning.   
  • MBPC will have three new board members in summer 2021, bringing our board to eight, of which a majority will be Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC).
  • In 2011, MBPC established a focus on State-Tribal Policy to promote sound fiscal and budget policy that serves to reverse the history of economic injustice that denies many Montanans who are American Indian access to opportunity.

Purpose of Board and Staff retreat

MBPC looks to use the two-day retreat to develop a three-year strategic plan that will center equity. Topics to address may include:

  • Discuss and potentially revise MBPC’s mission statement.
  • Examine MBPC’s role in regard to pursuing anti-racist public policy. What is our work now? Where are the gaps? What can we do differently? How are we applying our strengths in relationship with marginalized communities? What has worked, and what can we do to affect more equitable policies? What is MBPC’s long-term vision for the role it should play in Montana? What does it mean to be a good partner? What is the board’s role advancing MBPC’s equity lens?

Goals of Strategic Planning

  • Develop a concise strategic plan and organizational goals for the next three years that may incorporate the following areas.
    • Internal Organizational Policies and Procedures
      • Develop systems to create an inclusive work environment.
      • Discuss concrete steps for board and staff to continue to deepen internal racial equity learning and to learning about other oppressive systems/structures.
      • Prioritize REEI lens in professional development, budget development, hiring strategies, staff growth, internal organizational policies, and fundraising.
    • Programmatic and Policy Objectives and Growth
      • Discuss how changed state landscape impacts MBPC’s work moving forward, how we define success, and how we center equity despite that change.
      • Identify future programmatic work in research, communications, and policy development that centers equity. Discuss MBPC’s current process and possible changes in identifying research, communications, and policy priorities.
      • Discuss how to utilize MBPC’s organization reputation to influence more equitable public policy. 
    • Partnerships
      • Identify current and future partnership opportunities.
      • Set goals related to what partnerships look like, including the development of policy priorities, regranting, and financial support.
      • Examine how/when to shift policies based off partner or community input.
    • Organizational Stability
      • Explore the gaps in MBPC’s structure, leadership, and staff capacity.
      • Set achievable goals regarding financial capacity.
      • Review board makeup, participation, and goals for board recruitment into the future.
    • Board Engagement
      • Set goals related to the board’s engagement with and support of MBPC’s equity work.
      • Analyze the board’s role in executing the above areas, including programmatic objectives, partnerships, internal organizational policies, and organizational stability.
      • Identify other areas of more specific board engagement.

Content of Proposal

Proposals should be submitted to Heather O’Loughlin at holoughlin@montanabudget.org and include the following information.

  • Description of consultant’s experience with and approach to centering equity and inclusion throughout the process and deliverables.
  • Consultant’s approach to strategic planning with an explanation of how the process is inclusive.
  • Proposed scope of services and timeline.
  • Proposed tools, strategies, or methodologies used in a retreat setting.
  • Description of strategies or tools proposed to engage board and staff members of varying backgrounds, skills, and experience with MBPC, and varying levels of racial equity learning.
  • Description of deliverables
  • Qualifications and relevant experience
  • Cost estimates
  • Two references
  • Potential travel costs

Position Announcement: State-Tribal Policy Analyst

The Montana Budget & Policy Center (MBPC) seeks a full-time State-Tribal Policy Analyst to support our efforts to advance a policy agenda that works for tribal communities, primarily by performing research and analysis of state budget and policy decisions and conducting outreach to stakeholders in tribal communities.

The ideal candidate (they) will be self-directed, detail-oriented, solutions-oriented, proactive, and curious. They excel at researching, writing, and building relationships and are committed to advancing indigenous justice, tribal sovereignty, and access to opportunity for tribal communities in Montana.

About MBPC

Founded in 2008, MBPC’s mission is to advance responsible tax, budget, and economic policies through credible research and analysis to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

Since 2011, MBPC has dedicated a focus of its efforts to advancing state budget decisions and policies that honor tribal sovereignty, invest in tribal communities, and promote equity and opportunity for Montanans who are American Indian. We aim to inform policymakers on how state tax and budget choices can strengthen our state by strengthening Indian Country. MBPC works to align our policy and research agendas with community priorities by building relationships with tribal leaders, advocates, organizations, and partners.

Duties and Responsibilities

The State-Tribal Policy Analyst will report to the Deputy Director, Equity Policy and Programs. Specific responsibilities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Research and analyze state budget decisions and policies that impact tribal communities and translate findings into digestible reports and materials for various stakeholders to use. Share research through occasional presentations.
  • Build and maintain relationships with stakeholders, including, but not limited to, tribal leaders, tribal health leaders, MBPC’s State-Tribal Advisory Council, and various coalitions. Meet with stakeholders in person when it is safe and appropriate.
  • Track legislation during the legislative session and keep relevant stakeholders updated on the status of identified legislation, provide testimony on bills relevant to MBPC’s State-Tribal Policy work, and provide members of the American Indian Caucus of the Montana Legislature with general support.
  • Play an active role in MBPC’s efforts to advance racial equity and dismantle white supremacy across various facets of the organization’s work. Examples of how this may look include 1) incorporating historical context, disaggregated data, and community priorities in research reports and 2) participating in organizational learning opportunities.
  • Represent MBPC on coalitions. Participate in conversations and networks across the state to share, learn, and advance a policy agenda that works for tribal communities.

Qualifications

To be successful in this job, the candidate will possess the following skills and qualifications:

  • At least two years of relevant higher education experience and at least two years of relevant work experience. A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field may substitute.
  • A commitment to social justice, racial equity, and tribal sovereignty.
  • A desire to develop a policy and research agenda that reflects tribal community priorities within a state policy context.
  • Experience working with indigenous communities and organizations.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills, with the ability to translate complex topics for various audiences and synthesize data and research into clear, compelling arguments.
  • Capacity to build and maintain relationships with various constituents, including tribal leaders, advocates, and legislators.
  • An eagerness to develop or deepen an understanding of state budget decisions and tax and economic policies and how they have disparate impacts.
  • Knowledge of how state policies impact tribal communities.
  • Comfort working both independently and collaboratively.
  • A willingness to ask clarifying questions and learn from feedback.
  • A proactive, solutions-oriented approach to work.
  • Ability to prioritize, multi-task, and work at a high capacity to meet deadlines.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office programs and with internet research.
  • Ability and openness to travel within Montana roughly 10 percent of the time. Additional travel to Helena may be necessary during the legislative session.

The following qualifications are a plus:

  • An advanced degree.
  • Knowledge of federal Indian law and policy.
  • Experience working for or with advocates, legislatures, or government entities.
  • Quantitative analysis skills, including experience using Excel and analyzing data.
  • Experience with state fiscal policy.

Position Details

The ideal candidate will work full-time from Helena or Missoula, although location is flexible while we remain teleworking due to the pandemic. MBPC will consider candidates based elsewhere in Montana. A PDF version of the job description is here.

The starting salary range for this position begins at $50,000, with exact salary depending on experience. MBPC also provides competitive benefits packages within the nonprofit sector, including health, retirement, and leave benefits.

To Apply

To apply, submit a resume and one-page cover letter to Preston Parish (he/him/his) at pparish@montanabudget.org. Submit your application in PDF or Word document format as one file named with your first and last name (for example: Preston_Parish.pdf). Please make the subject of your email “Application for State-Tribal Policy Analyst.”

The position is open until filled. Application review will begin on May 17.

MBPC is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious or political affiliation, disability, and any other classification considered discriminatory under applicable law.

Senate Bill 214 Has Deep Roots in Settler Colonialism

After tabling it on April 1, House Tax voted on April 9 to pass Senate Bill (SB) 214 out of committee. Now, it will move to the House floor for the full House of Representatives to consider. Like SB 138, its predecessor, SB 214 has deep roots in anti-indigenous policy. Opponents to this bill have made that clear. At the bill’s March 24 hearing, 20 opponents, including tribal leaders, testified in opposition, while just two proponents spoke in favor of the bill. Lawmakers should keep this in mind when casting their vote.

SB 214 relies on policy from 1887, when Congress passed the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, with the ultimate purpose of dissolving tribal governments and reservations and assimilating American Indians into non-Indian society. This forced allotment of reservations opened tribal land to property taxation and made SB 214 possible today.

What Is Senate Bill 214?

SB 214 would change an existing five-year tribal property tax exemption for fee-to-trust transfers that the 2011 Legislature created with bipartisan support when it passed SB 412. The proposed changes under SB 214 would allow counties to recapture taxes on exempt property if either the five-year period expires (meaning the process with the federal government takes longer than five years) or if the federal government denies the fee-to-trust transfer.

In February, Senate Tax tabled SB 138, which would have outright repealed the temporary exemption. In 2019, the Legislature opposed two similar bills: House Bill (HB) 401 and HB 733. Lawmakers’ first decision to table SB 214 was the right one.

How Is Senate Bill 214 Connected to Allotment?

SB 214 is possible because of allotment. When Congress began the allotment and assimilation era in 1887, it divided communally held reservation lands into individual parcels without tribal consent, allocated parcels to tribal citizens and households, and sold “surplus” parcels to non-Indian settlers, most often without compensating tribal nations. In total, the U.S. government took more than 90 million acres (roughly the size of present-day Montana) from tribal nations.

Now, reservation lands are a patchwork pattern of ownership and land status types, with land generally falling into one of two status types: trust or fee. Trust land is held in trust by the federal government and includes land collectively owned by a tribal nation and allotments to tribal citizens. Trust land is exempt from property taxes. Fee land, on the other hand,is generally private property and can be owned by American Indians and non-Indians. Because of the forced allotment of reservation lands, state and local taxing jurisdictions may assess property taxes on tribally owned fee land.

As intended, allotment had devastating consequences for tribal communities. In 1934, Congress ended the allotment era when it passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). Under the IRA, tribal nations and the federal government can return fee land to trust status. However, the process can be lengthy and costly to tribal nations. To facilitate those transfers and to recognize that one government did not want to tax another while the wheels of the federal government turn slowly, the 2011 Legislature passed SB 412.

By attempting to change this exemption, SB 214 ultimately would punish tribal nations for the federal government moving too slowly. Because proposed changes would allow counties to collect back taxes, SB 214 could also incentivize counties to delay fee-to-trust transfers by challenging those applications.

A Better Path Forward

Rather than impose property taxes on tribally owned reservation land, the Legislature should dismantle the legacy of allotment by expanding the tribal property tax exemption. This would be consistent with the treatment of other government-owned property in Montana, where property that is owned by federal, state, and local governments is tax-exempt. SB 214 targets land owned by tribal governments, disregarding and dishonoring the government-to-government relationship and political status of tribal nations as sovereign.

Expanding the exemption would also be consistent with the approach that other states take. Oregon, for example, exempts tribal lands from property taxes when a fee-to-trust application is pending. There are no time constraints. Idaho exempts tribally owned reservation land altogether, in an effort to treat all government properties the same, whether federal, state, county, or tribal.

What Is Next?

Although it was recognized as bad policy long ago, tribal nations continue to feel the impacts of allotment today. MBPC opposes SB 214 and will continue to track its progress.

In the meantime, tell your Representative to oppose this bill by sending them a message at https://leg.mt.gov/web-messaging/ or by calling 406-444-4800.

For a deeper dive into the land status of Indian Country, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Land Status of Indian Country.

The Kansas Tax Cut Experiment Won’t Work in Montana

Tax policy rarely becomes famous. But when Kansas cut income taxes severely in 2012 and 2013, the state’s tax experiment became so well-known it is now synonymous with failed tax cut policy. The experiment failed so badly that the legislature voted to overturn the tax cuts just six years later.

Yet, the Montana legislature is trying to lead us down the same yellow-brick road. Governor Gianforte’s tax cut proposals vary somewhat from the Kansas approach. However, they are similar in the significant reduction of state revenue, and what we know from the Kansas experiment is deep cuts to state revenue do not lead to economic growth.

In 2012 and 2013, the Kansas legislature cut the top income bracket by nearly 30 percent, from 6.45 to 4.6 percent. The plan also cut the tax rate for certain businesses down to zero. The legislature hoped that the plan would lure businesses in with their low-tax rate and spur economic growth. Ultimately, the opposite happened.

While the rest of the country began to recover from the Great Recession, Kansas lagged behind. Over the five years after implementing its tax cuts, Kansas’ 4.2 percent private-sector growth was lower than all of its neighboring states (except for Oklahoma), while jobs in the United States as a whole grew by 9.4 percent. Additionally, Kansas’ economy lagged behind its six region states and the rest of the country as a whole.

Governor Brownback predicted such robust economic growth that his tax-cut proposal would be nearly revenue-neutral to sell the tax cuts. Unsurprisingly, lower taxes only led to lower revenue. Five years into Kansas’ failed tax experiment, the gap between the state’s revenue and expenses was almost a billion dollars

As Kansas hemorrhaged revenue, the state ultimately had to take an ax to the state budget. Between 2014 to 2017, the state enacted nine rounds of budget cuts to deal with its lost revenue.

Kansas slashed funding for roads, bridges, and highway maintenance. It cut K-12 education so profoundly that the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that its education funding failed to comply with its Constitution. Local communities lost vital services like public safety, local health departments, and public libraries. Kansas’s credit was downgraded three times, and it increased sales tax twice.

Like Montana, Kansas is a primarily rural state. The dramatic drop in state aid to local government hit Kansas’ rural communities the hardest. As a result of the tax cuts, 77 Kansas counties had to pick up the tab to make up for state aid loss by increasing their local tax levies. Of those, 80 percent were rural or frontier counties where services are already more expensive to deliver due to their remoteness and lower populations.

Behind the curtain, there was no magic. Tax cuts led to budget cuts, and Kansans suffered.

Despite this recent real-world example of state tax cuts’ failure, Montana seems determined to follow the same path. The Montana legislature is currently considering a slate of tax cut bills that will put Montana at risk of falling behind the rest of the country as we recover from our pandemic crisis. These tax cuts will primarily go to the wealthiest Montanans, exacerbate racial inequalities, and make our tax code even more regressive. For a more in-depth analysis of this and the other tax cut bills in the Montana legislature this session, see our report: What Proposed Tax Cuts Really Mean for Montanans.

A recent concerning development is SB 399 – a massive overhaul of Montana’s tax system. Usually, a bill of this magnitude would have had lengthy hearings with weeks or months of debate. Instead, this 100-page bill had its first hearing only 12 days ago. This bill would decrease Montana’s top tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6.5 percent, would immediately eliminate 17 tax credits without any review or analysis, and could cost the state nearly $40 million a year in lost revenue by 2025. It would also increase taxes on one in five Montana taxpayers, including about 36,000 with incomes below $60,000. This significant revenue loss amounts to children missing out on necessary services, road repairs going unaddressed, and forgoing opportunities to rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Montana is trying to recreate Kansas’s failed tax cut experiment and hoping for a different outcome. In this session, our legislature should be focused on rebuilding our state, not cutting our resources.

House Bill 397 Would Increase the Supply of Housing Montanans Can Afford

The Senate Taxation Committee will take executive action this Friday on HB 397, the Montana Workforce Housing Tax Credit. Montana’s workforce housing shortage is one of the most critical issues impacting urban and rural areas across the state. Rent in Montana has grown 62 percent faster than the national average, and 668 percent of Montana renters living on very low incomes pay more than half of their income for housing. This system is simply unsustainable. This program is a much-needed tool to increase Montana’s housing supply as part of the state’s post-COVID come-back plan.

HB 397 incentivizes developers to build more homes for working families. The Montana Workforce Housing Tax Credit is a companion program to the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and, when paired together, would double the use of these federal funds. About 20 states have state-based housing tax credit programs to address their workforce housing issues. For example, after Colorado renewed its state housing tax credit in 2015, the program helped double the number of new and renovated homes affordable to working families, created 19,000 jobs, and generated $1.5 billion in total economic benefit. Montana’s state housing tax credit looks to deliver similar results in the number of homes created, as well as the financial and economic benefits generated by tax credit supported housing projects.  

HB 397 would create:

  • More workforce housing: Passing a state-based housing tax credit would allow Montana to double (or possibly triple) the number of rental homes that we can create or preserve each year.
  • More investment: A state credit could bring in enough private investment to produce 18,000 homes and generate over $828 million in economic activity over ten years.
  • More workforce housing in rural areas: Since 2016, $310 million for 1,900 apartments in federal tax credit requests were denied due to lack of available credits, with more than half of unfunded projects located in rural areas. A state tax credit can support larger urban developments, making more federal tax credits available for rural areas and small towns.
  • More good-paying jobs: A single new housing construction project supports 13 jobs earning $600,000 in labor incomes per $1 million invested in new multi-family housing construction projects. Additionally, more available workforce housing allows employers to hire and retain the employees they need to grow their business.

Everyone deserves a home, but homes are also critical to ensuring a stable and productive workforce. Our state continues to suffer the social and economic consequences when people cannot find affordable and quality housing in the communities where they work. Our legislature must act urgently to address this problem by passing the Montana Workforce Housing Tax Credit program.

House Bill 632: Summary of ARPA Funds

The link below is a short summary of House Bill 632 that appropriate $2.1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Appropriations made in HB 632 are authorized to continue through the biennium starting July 1, 2023. This summary is as of April 1, 2021 as passed by the House of Representatives.

 HB 632: Summary of ARPA Funding

SB 100: A Trojan Horse

The legislature is currently considering SB 100. This legislation purports to “prevent fraud” but is riddled with unintended consequences impacting adults and children accessing Medicaid health care coverage and food assistance. 

SB 100 is a Trojan Horse – it lures legislators in with the promise of saving the state money by rooting out fraud. The fiscal note, however, reveals a different story. The bulk of the purported savings to the state come from more than a thousand Montanans who are currently eligible for coverage losing their health insurance.

The fiscal note for SB 100 assumes that adults enrolled in Medicaid expansion and children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would no longer have a one-year eligibility period for their insurance. SB 100 would end the current practice, known as continuous eligibility, which allows Montanans living on low incomes to maintain their health insurance even if their income fluctuates during the year.

An expensive and complicated verification process would require those enrolled to verify eligibility at least every six months. This process would create a potential barrier to maintaining coverage often when they most need it. Because families accessing coverage and living on low wages often face fluctuations in wages over short periods, the Department estimates that thousands of enrollees would lose their insurance under this cumbersome verification process. (The exact number of those losing coverage is unclear. The Department estimates the total number of “member months,” which equates to roughly 1,500 adults and 270 children over one year. Still, the reality is that it likely represents far more individual enrollees losing coverage for a portion of the year.)   

Efforts that would cut off coverage for those currently eligible will create uncertainty for both workers and businesses. The reality is that a fair number of those who lose coverage are back on the program within a matter of months. This dynamic, referred to as “churn,” often costs the state more in administrative costs. Those facing critical health issues face the risk of losing coverage and services when they most need them. In a study related to the impacts of churn in selected states, 16.2 percent of those churning on and off of coverage had to switch or change their prescription medication due to changes in coverage, 33.9 percent either skipped medication doses or stopped taking medication altogether.

The reality is that people accessing coverage through the HELP program are often doing so temporarily. Still, coverage during that time is often critical to accessing preventative services, mental health, and SUD services, helping those enrolled reach financial and economic stability. According to the data, individuals accessing HELP coverage are enrolled for an average of two years, with roughly a third receiving coverage for less than 12 months. In 2019, over 60,000 HELP enrollees accessed preventative care services and more than 30,000 behavioral health services. 

The loss of health care coverage by people who are currently eligible results is supposed savings to the state. But it also results in millions of dollars of lost federal revenue – funds that allow people to access health care and help support local businessestribal communities, and rural hospitals.

Fraud is exceedingly rare, and the Montana Department of Justice estimates 50 cases of suspected fraud tied to implementing SB 100. To put these 50 cases in perspective, this represents 0.02% of the total caseload within those programs impacted. The cost savings the bill claims do not come from finding fraud but instead come from eligible individuals losing access to these vital programs and services.

Bills such as SB 100 can be costly. The state will need to build an enhanced verification system and hire employees to re-enroll people who lost their benefits despite still being eligible. The fiscal note which touts the money saved by ending continuous eligibility hides what is likely an expensive endeavor to find a minimal amount of fraud. 

But the actual cost of the bill is not reflected in the fiscal note. It comes when Montanans who are struggling to make ends meet must jump through hoops to feed their families and access affordable medical care for themselves and their children. 

As we strive to recover from this pandemic, we must ensure Montanans have access to health care to keep our communities safe and healthy. SB 100 will jeopardize needed services for children, individuals, and families at a time when they are most in need of help. 

House Bill 621 Would Bring Recreational Cannabis Tax Revenue to Indian Country

In November 2020, Montanans voted to pass I-190 to legalize possession and use of recreational cannabis and to establish a 20 percent tax on recreational cannabis sales. MBPC has chosen to use the race-neutral, scientific term “cannabis,” except when referencing state accounts.

What Is House Bill 621?

On Wednesday, March 24, House Tax is scheduled to hear House Bill (HB) 621. HB 621 would distribute 8.4 percent of recreational cannabis tax revenue to a newly created state-tribal marijuana revenue-sharing account for the Department of Revenue to provide tribal governments with grants for:

  • ensuring that cannabis is controlled based on state law;
  • addressing substance use;
  • fire and police protection;
  • emergency-related or disaster-related expenses; and
  • health services.

HB 621 would be a significant revenue boost for tribal governments. The fiscal note estimates that HB 621 would deposit roughly $382,000 into the account beginning in 2022, with that amount increasing annually to as much as $3.3 million in 2025. For comparison, the Department of Revenue’s latest biennial report notes that the 2020 tribal allocation was nearly $3.6 million for the cigarette tax.

Tribal Governments Need Revenue

Like all governments, tribal governments need revenue to fund programs and services on which Montanans rely. The power to generate revenue through taxation is inherent to tribal sovereignty. Yet, over time, state and local governments have hamstrung the ability of tribal governments to raise needed revenue by challenging tribal governments’ once-exclusive taxation authority. This means that tribal governments must provide many of the same services as other governments without the usual tax revenue on which those governments rely.

Tax revenue is an insignificant revenue source for tribal governments. While taxes represent the largest revenue source for the state and local governments in Montana, the largest source of tribal revenue comes from federal funding, most of which stems from the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations. However, the federal government chronically fails to uphold this legally binding obligation. The Indian Health Service budget, for example, meets just more than half of American Indian health-care needs.

By competing with tribal nations for tax revenue, state and local governments worsen fiscal problems for tribal nations, extract wealth from tribal communities, and deny tribal governments the ability to adequately invest in their communities. (For more on taxation in Indian Country, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Taxation Authority in Indian Country.)

House Bill 621 Would Help Pave a Path to Economic Recovery in Indian Country

HB 621 provides legislators with one tool to provide tribal nations with the fiscal relief they are overdue. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a brighter spotlight on deeply rooted inequities in Montana. Years of underinvestment, plus the outlined challenges to the ability of tribal governments to generate tax revenue, have resulted in outsized consequences of the pandemic for tribal communities. Recreational cannabis sales are estimated to bring millions of dollars of tax revenue into the state, meaning there is enough to share. The Legislature should vote yes on HB 621 to make this smart investment that helps pave the way to economic resilience and opportunity in Indian Country.

To make your voice heard through remote testimony, register through this link by noon on Tuesday, March 23.

Early Action on the Budget Leaves Major Gaps, While Tax Breaks Move Forward

Montanans care deeply about the well-being of their families and neighbors. They want a hopeful and prosperous future for their children, safe communities, and a robust state economy that supports quality jobs and thriving businesses – big and small. As Montana’s 2021 Legislature moves forward with the state budget, it is important to prioritize those most impacted by the past year. By supporting those families, we create a state where we can move forward to a better state for everyone. And by resisting calls to cut taxes for those who are already well off, we can retain the funds our state needs to be bold, forward thinking investments in our future.

Unfortunately, legislative subcommittees in charge of first consideration of the state budget have taken damaging cuts that will harm children, families, and communities across the state. These proposed cuts come at the same time the Legislature is moving forward with tax cuts that will significantly reduce state revenue and make it challenging to invest in the long term.

As the full House Committee on Appropriations begins its hearings on HB 2, the state’s budget bill, here is a snapshot of the actions taken by initial subcommittees and where some of the state agencies stand.

Department of Public Health and Human Services

The budget for DPHHS is $162 million below the executive’s proposed budget, with deep cuts to state Medicaid funding that will also result in the loss of federal matching funds. These reductions include:

  • $128 million funding reduction tied to Medicaid caseload across all Medicaid programs;
  • $14 million general fund reduction (replaced with federal funds) aimed at eliminating continuous eligibility for adults accessing coverage through Medicaid expansion;
  • $21 million general fund reduction that would effectively end the Comprehensive School and Community Treatment (CSCT) program (efforts to provide even stopgap funding failed to pass);
  • $10 million cut in three divisions serving adults and children with disabilities (ending a fund transfer from another account, thereby reducing the divisions’ budgets);
  • $2.5 million in additional vacancy savings across six DPHHS divisions;
  • $2.4 million general fund cut, eliminating the Stars to Quality program supporting Montana’s child care providers;
  • $481,000 cut, aimed at eliminating the two tribal health positions; and
  • $770,000 cut in federal pass-through funding for the refugee services program.

The subcommittee did provide a modest provider rate increase of 1 percent for each year of the biennium for some Medicaid providers (pared back from a proposed 2 percent rate increase), as well as, $1.50 increase to the foster care provider daily rate (reduced back from an original proposal for a $5 increase).

Department of Corrections

The Corrections’ budget is roughly $14.5 million below the executive’s proposal, which was already less than the previous November executive proposed budget. The subcommittee did not approve several proposed budget adjustments, including:

  • $3.5 million in the director’s office, including adjustments to fixed costs and personal services;
  • $5 million in probation and parole, including reduction of new proposals to add presentencing investigation positions, additional officers, and a significant increase in vacancy savings rate; and
  • $5 million reduction in the clinical services division, eliminating funding for hepatitis C treatment services.

Office of Public Defender

The budget for OPD is $800,000 below the executive’s proposed budget, as the subcommittee did not approve any caseload adjustment over the biennium. Governor Gianforte’s proposal for caseload growth was already a reduction from the previous November proposed budget. (The decrease compared to the previous November budget is more than $4 million difference.)

Office of Public Instruction

Overall, legislative action is mostly consistent with the executive’s proposed budget, including $80 million present law adjustment for K-12 schools (down slightly from the executive’s budget) and implementing new funding for teacher recruitment.

The subcommittee for education also approved a line item to transfer the Montana Indian Language Preservation program from the Department of Commerce to the Office of Public Instruction, with funding at $1.5 million over the biennium.

Office of Commissioner of Higher Education

The budget for Montana’s colleges and universities currently sits slightly above the executive’s budget. This includes new one-time-only funding for research ($1 million), career and technical education program ($550,000), and need-based financial aid ($750,000). The subcommittee also provided $375,000 to continue high school equivalency test (HiSET) preparation through the tribal colleges.

Department of Revenue

The budget for the Department of Revenue is $8.5 million below the executive’s proposed budget. This is primarily due to the subcommittee not approving additional personnel needed to implement the voter-approved I-190 to legalize and tax recreational marijuana.

What’s Next?

The full House Committee on Appropriations will spend this week hearing from agencies on HB 2 and taking public comment. Legislators should prioritize restoring funding for critical services and investing in long-term solutions that support families and communities.

Transmittal Update: State-Tribal Legislation

The Montana Legislature has reached transmittal, or the point in the legislative session at which general policy bills must move from one chamber to the other. That means that if a general policy bill started in the House, the Legislature must refer it to the Senate (and vice versa). If the Legislature fails to do so, that bill dies. This deadline does not apply to bills that appropriate money or deal with revenue.

This blog provides an update on some of the state-tribal bills that the Legislature has considered so far, not just those bills that are impacted by the transmittal deadline. The following bills are not a comprehensive run-through of all bills relevant to Indian Country.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP)

House Bill (HB) 35 would establish a missing persons review commission, which would review closed missing persons cases. The commission would 1) examine patterns and trends of MMIP cases, 2) educate stakeholders about MMIP and investigation and prevention strategies, and 3) make recommendations to curb MMIP rates. For the biennium, HB 35 would appropriate $85,000 from the general fund to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to operate the commission.

HB 36 would establish a grant program to help fund training opportunities for community-based missing persons response teams. For the biennium, HB 36 would transfer $61,000 from the general fund to the missing persons response team training grant account for the DOJ to administer.

The 2019 Legislature created the missing indigenous persons task force and the Looping in Native Communities (LINC) network grant program when it passed Senate Bill (SB) 312. The LINC grant program supports efforts of tribal nations to identify, report, and find missing indigenous persons. The task force administers the grant program. HB 98 would extend the termination dates of both the task force and the grant program from June 30, 2021, to June 30, 2023. HB 98 would also require the task force to identify causes of and make recommendations to reduce MMIP cases. The bill would also require the task force to produce a written report of its findings and recommendations. HB 98 would transfer $50,000 from the general fund to the LINC special revenue account for the biennium for the task force to provide matching grants to tribal agencies to implement LINC.

Senate Judiciary is scheduled to hear all three bills on March 10. MBPC supports all three bills.

Property Taxes

In 2011, the Legislature passed SB 412 to create a five-year tribal property tax exemption that tribal nations apply to fee land with a pending trust application. (For more on what this means, see MBPC’s report, Policy Basics: Land Status of Indian Country.) SB 138 would have repealed this exemption. As MBPC wrote about in early February, SB 138 has deep roots in settler colonialism. This bill is possible because of the forced allotment of reservations, which the federal government used in its efforts to dissolve tribal governments and reservations and assimilate American Indians into non-Indian society. One legacy of this policy is that it allows for state and local taxing jurisdictions to assess property taxes on tribally owned fee land. Senate Tax tabled SB 138 in committee.

SB 214 would revise the previously mentioned tribal property tax exemption to allow for counties to recapture “lost” tax revenue, should either the federal government deny a tribal nation’s fee-to-trust application or should the application remain pending after the five-year exemption expires. Senate Tax passed the bill on a 7-4 vote.

HB 526 would allow counties to challenge property tax exemptions that the Department of Revenue provides. The bill passed 3rd reading in the House on March 2 on a 66-33 vote. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

MBPC opposes these bills.

Again, this blog does not capture the full breadth of bills that impact Indian Country. There are bills related to language preservation, voting rights, cannabis revenue, and more. MBPC will continue to track legislation and provide updates.