Elections and Government Services Administrative Rules of Montana Business Services Notary and Certification Records and Information Management

Argument Against CI-97

CI-97 (SOS) is an out-of-state gimmick that creates problems rather than solutions. It limits state spending to a rigid formula that slowly strangles the state budget, hamstringing the state’s ability to provide basic public services.

CI-97 is not a homegrown effort. National groups are spending millions to push this measure in Montana and elsewhere. We don’t need their out-of-state agenda forced on Montana . Montana ’s constitution already requires a balanced state budget that protects against overspending. (Article VIII, Section 9)

Our concerns about CI-97 are not speculation. They are based on what happened in Colorado , the only state with a measure like CI-97. Colorado ’s version of CI-97 harmed public health and safety, K-12 and higher education, firefighting and police services, agriculture, and roads. Seniors lost their property tax exemption and saw major cuts in home health care. Fees – such as fishing, hunting, and car licenses and water user fees – rose drastically in Colorado .

Fed up, Coloradans voted to suspend their version of CI-97 in 2005. The state’s business community led the charge to suspend it.

Governor Schweitzer wants to give a property tax rebate of $400 to Montana homeowners. Rebates under CI-97 would have to be on a pro-rata basis, benefiting out-of-state corporations and wealthy people the most. Montana homeowners lose under CI-97.

In Montana , we know too well what happens when state budget cuts go too far: the burden falls on local taxpayers, and property taxes rise. We’ve seen it for years with school funding. If CI-97 hog-ties Montana ’s state budget, counties will see increased pressure to make up for the shortfalls.

Even in good economic times when the state has more revenue, the money can’t be used to improve roads and schools or invest in economic development. The CI-97 cap would not allow it.

CI-97 invites frivolous lawsuits by allowing anyone, even out-of-state individuals and corporations with interests in Montana , to sue the state over compliance. Montana taxpayers would pay for these lawsuits. Because the CI-97 language is so complex, we can expect plenty of lawsuits.

In our representative democracy, we elect people to make tough decisions and respond to citizens’ concerns. CI-97 removes the ability of elected officials to make important budget decisions and gives that authority to a rigid formula. This is a radical and permanent change to Montana ’s constitution that will make public officials less accountable.

Twenty-one states recently considered and rejected measures like CI-97. Republicans and Democrats in these states worked together against this bad idea, just as they have in Montana . Colorado remains the only state to pass it, and they recently suspended it.

CI-97 is nothing but a shell game that would hurt the people of Montana , raise fees and property taxes, and keep average Montanans paying the bill – just as in Colorado . We should learn from Colorado ’s mistake and vote against CI-97.

The PROPONENT argument and rebuttal for this measure were prepared by Representative Scott Mendenhall, Senator Joe Balyeat, CPA, and Representative George Everett.

 The OPPONENT argument and rebuttal for this measure were prepared by Douglas H. Neil, County Commissioner Daniel D. Watson, Teresa Olcott Cohea, Max Logan, and Judie Woodhouse.

Proponents' Rebuttal

Opponents’ fear-filled fiction vs. the facts

  • Because Montana’s statutory cap was overturned, two Montana legislators proposed CI-97 at 2005’s special session. Almost half Montana’s legislators supported their proposal.
  • Non-Montana national organizations are spending bundles against CI-97 – statewide mailings, fulltime staff, imported phony “experts”…
  • Opponents claim problems may occur “when state budget cuts go too far”; that’s completely irrelevant because CI-97 doesn’t cut any state budgets. CI-97 allows them reasonable growth – by inflation plus population increases.
  • Montana’s current balanced budget provision doesn’t stop over-spending . Tax-and-spend politicians keep over-spending, while increasing taxes to balance budgets.
  • 25 states besides Colorado have spending caps.
  • CI-97 vastly improves Colorado’s TABOR . No budget downsizing, no overall budget limit, numerous exemptions (i.e., federal funding) allowing unrestricted growth for 62% of Montana’s budget, and reasonable growth for 38% (discretionary spending).
  • Fee increases? Montana’s CI-97 doesn’t even contain the tax limitation component which caused Colorado to raise fees instead. CI-97 actually discourages large fee increases because politicians couldn’t spend more than CI-97’s allowable budget increases anyway.
  • CI-97 does mirror TABOR’s voter rights – Coloradoans got to vote on (and approved) excess spending last fall. TABOR was validated, not eliminated – voters can be trusted to do what’s best.
  • CI-97 doesn’t bar flat $400 rebates – Rebates are simply part of the governor’s budget. Additional proportionate tax refunds could occur beyond the budget limit.
  • Politicians don’t swear to stop over-spending, they do swear to uphold Montana ’s constitution. No lawsuits will occur if politicians comply.

That’s why Montana needs a constitutional spending cap – CI-97!