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GUEST OPINION

George Richards: CI-121 will have dangerous consequences for Montana

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Lockwood house fire

First responders talk at the scene of a house fire in Lockwood. 

With a new fire season approaching, it is more important than ever that we protect our first responders. Unfortunately, a dangerous petition is currently circulating in our communities that puts the resources we need to do our jobs and protect our communities at risk.

As the president of the Montana Professional Firefighters and a working firefighter myself, I know first hand that a single spark can have far-reaching consequences. Allowing CI-121 to make it on the November ballot will simply make it harder for first responders to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.

CI-121 is a proposed amendment to our Montana Constitution that is modeled off a California initiative. If placed on the November ballot and passed it would embed disastrous tax policy into the Montana Constitution. Once placed in the Constitution, it would be nearly impossible to remove, despite the negative impacts these policies have had across the country.

CI-121 has been billed as providing property tax relief for working people and families, but the impacts of this measure would be devastating for the middle class, while placing a higher tax burden on farmers, new homeowners and seniors. California’s Prop 13 disproportionately provided tax relief to already wealthy households, and resulted in disastrous cuts to public education, police departments and local fire departments.

Any tax relief promised to homeowners will be quickly off-set by the blow to public services, including the ability for law enforcement, firefighters, and other first responders to respond to crises and keep our communities safe. The cuts to California’s public education system alone resulted in that state providing 20% fewer services per pupil than the national average and have resulted in critical resources being unavailable for firefighters, especially in rural areas. Montana does not need to join California in a race to the bottom.

CI-121 would also result in reduced incentives for the building of new homes, particularly affordable worker housing. Currently, firefighters in Miles City are living in man camps as their workforce is unable to obtain affordable housing in the area. Montana should be finding more ways to incentivize the building of affordable housing, not further decreasing its availability.

CI-121 will have dangerous consequences for Montana. If asked, please decline to sign CI-121.

George Richards is the president of the Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters.

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