School Levy Roundup

Although we typically focus on state budget issues here at MBPC, local taxes are an important part of our tax system. Last week, voters in many districts across Montana were asked to approve local school levies. These school levies are typically property taxes levied on residents of the school district that help to fund the needs of local schools. They can be used to support the general fund, a building reserve fund, or other special projects such as improving technology. Public schools benefit all members of our community, helping to give Montana children the strong start they need. 

Here is a round up of the results of the school levies from around the state.

County/City

 

Amount

Passed

Blaine

Turner

High school building reserve fund

$38,951

Y

Turner

Elementary building reserve fund

$38,951

Y

Chinook

Technology fund

$16,000

Y

Chinook

Building reserve fund

$40,000

Y

Cascade

Sun River

High school technology

$30,000

N

Great Falls

Great Falls public schools

$1.6 million

Y

Choteau

Big Sandy

Elementary school

$16,695

Y

Flathead

Kalispell

Elementary school technology

$600,000

N

Columbia Falls

High school levy

$478,984

N

Kalispell

High school technology

$60,000

Y

Fair-Mont-Egan Elementary

Building reserve fund

$100,000

N

Marion

General fund

$33,708

N

Marion

Technology

$67,000

N

Gallatin

Belgrade

High school

$112,000

Y

Belgrade

Elementary school

$712,000

N

Granite

Philipsburg

Technology

$20,000

Y

Lewis and Clark 

Helena

Elementary school district operational

$70,000

Y

Mineral   

Alberton School District

General fund

$250,000

Y

St. Regis

Technology

$59,000

N

Missoula   

Missoula

Elementary district No. 1 general fund

$181,000

Y

Clinton

General fund

 

N

Seeley Lake

Elementary school

$17,999

Y

Pondera   

Conrad

High school general fund

$84,596

Y

Powell County

   

Deer Lodge

High school general fund

$38,000

Y

Deer Lodge

Building reserve

$100,000

Y

Deer Lodge

Elementary school technology

$50,000

Y

Ravalli  

Hamilton

General fund

$485,000

Y

Lone Rock

General fund

$100,000

N

Richland   

Sydney

High school

 

Y

One in Five Working Mothers Work in Low Wage Jobs

This past weekend, we celebrated our moms.  Mothers are often faced with tough decisions on how pink_nwlc_fes_workingmothers1in4best to balance raising kids, while ensuring they grow up in a financially stable environment.  Surrounding Mother’s Day, Montana Budget and Policy Center is taking a look at the challenges facing low-income working mothers.  Last week we released a new report on the cost burdens of child care in Montana.

We were also struck by a recent study put out by the National Women’s Law Center that shows nearly one in five working mothers with young children work in low-wage jobs

All parents face difficult challenges in caring for young children and giving their family a quality life.  But many single mothers, who must be the primary caregiver and primary breadwinner, grapple with meeting even basic needs for their kids – a roof over their heads and a healthy meal on the table. On top of that, they face the additional challenge of finding affordable, quality child care for their children.

To make things more challenging, working mothers of very young children are disproportionately represented in low-wage occupationsIn Montana, almost 22% of working mothers with children younger than 3 years of age are working in low-wage jobs.  By contrast, 15% of Montana’s overall workforce work in low-wage jobs.  Low-wage jobs can bring on their own host of challenges.  They often involve unstable, unpredictable schedules, and lack paid sick or family leave.  As the National Women’s Law Center notes, “the very nature of [these] jobs and the financial insecurity that goes with them can create tremendous stress for parents[.]”

Policymakers and employers in the state should find ways to help all working mothers in Montana succeed. Improving access to quality, affordable child care is one of the first steps in this direction.  State funding for pre-K could help increase child care options for many working families, and help improve the lives of children.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms out there!  Together, we can make sure all moms are given the support they need to provide a successful future for their kids.

What Moms Really Want for Mother’s Day

What do moms really want this Mother’s Day?

For many of Montana’s moms who work outside the home, one thing that tops the list is affordable childcare. With child care costs averaging over $7,500 a year for one four year old, a typical Montana working family with one child must spend a staggering portion of its  income – 13% – on child care, a new report released today by the Montana Budget and Policy Center shows. For low-income and single-parent households, this burden is significantly higher.

Moms are an important part of Montana communities and our economy. In addition to raising our children, they are teachers, helping our students learn; nurses, taking care of our ailing parents; police officers, keeping our communities safe. But for many families, the cost of going to work every day adds up,  forcing many working moms to decide between paying a burdensome amount of their income in child care costs, putting their children in less expensive but low quality child care, or leaving the workforce altogether.

This Mother’s Day, let’s give moms what they need.

Montana is one of only eight states without any state investment in pre-Kindergarten. Public funding for pre-K could help increase child care options for working families, easing some of the burden. And the benefits to children who attend high quality pre-K are numerous – they are more likely to graduate high school and go to college, and less likely to need to repeat grades or receive special education.

This weekend we honor all that moms do – from helping with homework, to treating middle of the night fevers, to working to support their families. And while we are at it, let’s not forget the cost that many working moms bear in order to go to work every day. Montana should support our moms, our children, and our families by supporting state funding for pre-K.

Wonky Word Wednesdays: Centrally Assessed Property Taxes

Have you ever felt like talking about the budget is a bit like taking the vocabulary part of the SATs? There are so many words that we would never use in our day to day lives! I generally know what they mean, but probably could not define them if asked.

With that in mind, we decided to start Wonky Word Wednesdays. Each Wednesday we will pick a word or phrase and do our best to explain what it is in a way that we can all understand. If you have words you want us to explain – in layman’s terms that is – comment below, or post on our Facebook page, and we will add it to our growing list.

The first wonky word (or phrase) will be Centrally Assessed Property Taxes.  At MBPC, we have been closely following Charter Communications proposed ballot initiative. Charter Communications is asking voters to redefine its property so it is no longer centrally assessed, dropping its tax rate from 6% to 3%.  

Centrally Assessed Property began as a way to tax industries – like the railroad – that had property in multiple counties or states and that operated as one big system. The idea was that the company would be taxed uniformly across the state, instead of asking each county to figure out the value of the company’s property located within its boundaries to determine how much in property taxes the company should pay.

The same general rules apply today. A centrally assessed property must operate as a single entity and must be connected across county or state borders, even if that connection is not a physical one – like a telephone wire. The different types of property that Montana law requires to be centrally assessed include: railroads, telephone lines, power lines, natural gas transmission or oil transmission lines, pipelines, airlines, coal mines, etc.

One example of a centrally assessed property is a cell phone company.  It may not have a specific tower in each Montana county, and those towers are not physically connected by a wire. However, a cell phone company is one single company and the ability for the towers to communicate with each other forms the “connection.” This connection is critical for the cell phone company to operate its business across the state. This connection is also what gives the company its value. Therefore, it is centrally assessed in Montana by the Department of Revenue on a statewide basis rather than asking each county to determine how much it should pay in taxes.

Centrally assessed properties are an important part of Montana’s tax code. Hopefully we all understand them a bit better now – I know I do! Check back each Wednesday for more wonky words from your friends at the Montana Budget and Policy Center. And don’t forget to let us know what terms you would like us to explore next!

Medicaid Expansion Would Benefit Indian Country

Medicaid expansion would significantly benefit Indian Country, especially in Montana. 

Did you know that Montana ranks the highest of any state for number of uninsured American Indians? With expansion, nearly 20,000 American Indians would be eligible for enrollment in Medicaid.  Although  many American Indians rely on Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities for care, IHS is an underfunded program that can be best described as “rationed” healthcare.  These facilities are currently funded at about 60 percent of the actual need, resulting in very limited services. Medicaid expansion would greatly improve access to health care for American Indians.

Medicaid expansion will not only ensure that close to 20,000 American Indians have health insurance, but it will also free up funds for IHS facilities to increase the services that are offered, and improve care.  Additionally, Medicaid expansion in Indian Country will not only improve the health status of American Indians, it will also help create jobs and put money into the state’s economy.

Expanding Medicaid is an opportunity to strengthen the lives, families, and communities of Indian Country. For more information on this topic, be sure to check out MBPC’s report of Medicaid expansion in Indian Country.

Montana Can’t Wait for Medicaid Expansion

What do Montana’s stunning parks, good schools, and winding roads have to do with Medicaid expansion?Montana Medicaid Expansion

They are all things our state and local tax dollars support. Last week, we wrote about how Medicaid expansion would help create 12,000 new jobs that will generate $1.3 million in increased labor productivity every day.

But these new jobs would create more than just new employment. They will also produce $135,205 in state and local tax revenue every day – supporting our schools, parks, roads, and helping to offset the small cost of Medicaid expansion for the state.

Montana should accept federal dollars to expand our state’s Medicaid program. Every day that passes, we are asking Montanans to wait.

To wait on better roads, stronger schools, cleaner parks.

To wait on new, good paying jobs.

To wait on a robust economy.

To wait on receiving the health care coverage they need.

 Montana can’t wait any longer. It’s time to expand Medicaid.

Montana’s Missing Out on a Chance to Boost Our Economy

Montana's_jobsLast week, we wrote about the staggering amount of federal money Montana is losing every day we delay Medicaid expansion.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Medicaid expansion would help create and support 12,000 jobs across the state, mostly in the growing health care industry. In a still-recovering economy, these jobs would give Montana a significant economic boost.

What kind of a boost? It is estimated at roughly $1.3 million a day. With more Montanans working in good paying jobs, Medicaid expansion would help generate millions of dollars in increased labor productivity. By accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, Montana can help strengthen communities across the state.

But there is more to the story than just dollars and cents. Expanding Medicaid would extend affordable health care coverage to as many as 70,000 Montanans. For those without access to health care, Medicaid is much more than a numbers game.

Expanding Medicaid means good jobs, a stronger economy, and healthier families – just what the doctor ordered.

Montana Loses $1.84 Million Every Day It Waits for Medicaid Expansion

 Montana is stuck in a waiting room.Montana's Fading Opportunity__1

Waiting for much needed revenue. Waiting for health care for thousands of Montanans.

Every day Montana stays in the waiting room, the state loses out on a staggering $1.84 million, a fact sheet released today by the Montana Budget and Policy Center shows.

That’s how much federal money would come into the state every day under expansion. It’s money that not only will pay for health care for as many as 70,000 Montanans, it will support jobs across the state and strengthen our economy.

The clock is ticking and the lost dollars are mounting. This Saturday, April 19, marks the day Montana will have lost out on $200 million in federal investment.

Montana can’t keep waiting. It’s time to move forward with Medicaid expansion. 

Montana’s Tax System: How Do We Stack Up?

StateandlocaltaxesOn Tax Day, we all spend some extra time thinking about how much we pay in taxes. Even more so for low- and middle-income families, who contribute a larger share of their income than high income people do. The difference is significant – Montana low-income families pay 6.4% of their income in taxes, compared to 4.7% of the wealthiest Montanans. 

The Institute on Tax and Economic Policy released a new report that compares the tax structure of each state and examines this issue of who pays.  

How does Montana stack up? There’s good news and bad news.  

First, the good:

  • Montana’s tax system relies primarily on the income tax.
  • Our income tax is progressive. This means as income goes up, the tax rate also goes up.
  • Montana does not have a sales tax. The sales tax is one of the most regressive taxes, with poor families paying eight times more of their incomes in sales taxes than wealthier families.

And now the bad:

  • Low-income families contribute more. Montana’s income tax kicks in at a very low income level. In fact, Montana is one of only a few states that impose income taxes on working families living in poverty. For a two-parent family with two children, Montana income tax rates begin at $12,500, roughly half of the federal poverty line.
  • While Montana’s income tax has graduated rates, the legislature collapsed these rates in 2003. Now, all Montanans making more than $13,900 are taxed at the same rate.  Over half of the benefit of the changes went to families with incomes over $500,000 per year. 
  • Our tax code values wealth over work. Montana taxes capital gains at an even lower rate than income earned by working. This tends to favor wealthy Montanans who make money on investments, compared to those earning an income from wages. Montana is one of only nine states that provides this tax break.
  • Low-income Montanans pay a greater share of their income in property taxes than the wealthy, because in general the property tax rate for residential homes is the same for all homeowners no matter their income. Families in the lowest 20% of income level contribute about 3.5% of income toward property taxes, compared to only 2% of income for the wealthiest Montanans. 

All in all, Montana is in the middle of the pack when compared to other states.  But we could do more to help working low-income families. Twenty-four states have improved the disparity in the share of income going toward taxes by enacting state-based Earned Income Tax Credits, which lowers the taxes paid by working low-income families

As Montana families complete their taxes, policymakers should consider policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit to ensure a prosperous Montana. 

The Case of the Missing Fourteen Cents

Hard-working women across the state of Montana are trying to solve a mystery. From every dollar in every paycheck women are bringing home for a hard day’s work, thirty-three cents are missing.

So the women started looking around.

“Nothing is missing,” Montana working women were told. “You chose to leave it behind – by working in the field you do, by taking the job you did, and by raising a family for those few years. Look again. You’ll find it.” paygapgraphic

So they looked again.

The findings were clear. Women do, in fact, experience a pay gap of $0.33. For every dollar a man makes, a woman makes $0.67.

This week, Governor’s Bullock Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force delved into this mystery. According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, part of this pay gap can be accounted for. Women often choose to take care of children and family members full-time, shortening their time in the labor force. Many women work in traditionally female professions, such as education, that are often underpaid. Women are also more likely to take part-time work, which often does not pay as well as a full-time position.

But these explanations only account for 65.7% of the pay gap (women, on average, are better educated than men, negating 6.7% of the gap). Fourteen cents out of every dollar that Montana women earn is still missing. This unexplained portion of the pay gap points to the gender inequality women in the workforce experience.

These missing cents matter. Economists estimate the U.S. economy would have produced an additional $447.6 billion in income in 2012 if men and women were paid equally. For women supporting families, the pay gap hurts even more. A single mother in Montana earns $26,610. That’s $13,000 less than a single father makes. Not only does the pay gap hurt Montana workers, it hurts families as a whole.

Our entire state does better when everyone earns their fair share. It’s time to find, and return, those missing fourteen cents.