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Where did all the fiscal conservatives go?

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In 2022, the people of Montana elected Republican supermajorities to both chambers of the Montana Legislature. Even though the people of Montana elected large majorities of Republicans, the Republicans elected to the Legislature did not always act like conservatives. Instead, many Republicans participated in a spending spree, trying to spend as much money as possible. With so many Republicans in the 2023 Legislature, the real question is where did all the fiscal conservatives go?

When I served in the Legislature, the Republican Party fought for fiscal conservative principles. Even if we did not win every battle, we certainly had a majority in our party willing to fight against tax and spend policies, government subsidies, and more government programs. Sadly, those days are gone. In the last legislative session, a large number of Republicans preferred to team up with Democrats to spend millions on unnecessary government programs.

This new dynamic is best exemplified by looking at SB 442. SB 442 takes marijuana tax money and allocates it to several new government programs including a new road maintenance program for counties which do not allow the sale of marijuana. When the people of the Montana voted to allow the sale of marijuana, the deal was straightforward – each county gets to decide if it wants to sell marijuana, but if a county does not want to sell marijuana, the county does not get the benefit of marijuana taxes.

SB 442 is different. Under SB 442, every county gets a share of marijuana taxes. Nearly 28% of all marijuana tax revenue for county road maintenance will go to counties which do not allow the sale of marijuana. Instead of using marijuana taxes to do something like pay down property taxes, marijuana tax revenue from counties like Yellowstone County, where they allow the sale of marijuana, will be used to subsidize road maintenance activities in counties like Phillips County, which does not.

The simple reality is that SB 442 is just another tax and spend, subsidy program. Under SB 442, marijuana tax revenue is being taken from places which suffer the consequences of marijuana sales and gives it to places which do not suffer any of the burdens of marijuana. Whether you like marijuana or not, it has real impacts on law enforcement and social services. The places which suffer the burden of marijuana sales should be the places which experience the benefit of marijuana tax revenue.

The Governor wisely decided to veto SB 442; however, many Republicans and several special interest groups are pushing to override the veto. This crossover coalition is pushing to grow government at the expense of taxpayers. The conservative vote is to uphold the veto. The liberal vote is to override it. In a few weeks, we will find out who made the conservative vote and who made the liberal vote. If you are a conservative, please use this information to guide your vote in the Republican primary. No fiscal conservative should vote to override SB 442.

Scott Sales is the former President of the Montana Senate, Speaker of the House and candidate for House District 68.


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