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Stop feeding the turkeys • Daily Montanan

I don't know when the Merriam turkey was introduced to western Montana, but it was and it thrived. I can attest to that. In the 1980s and 1990s, I converted about 65 acres of forest land to cropland and planted a lot of oats to “tame” the soil. I stored a lot of oats for hay and the word spread quickly in the turkey world. In a short time, my haystacks looked like the back of a thresher because the turkeys were scratching the bales to get to the oats, tearing all the threads in the process. This meant I had to use a pitchfork to load the hay onto a wagon.

I will be forever grateful to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, whose staff caught and relocated approximately 400 of these fish to the Flathead where they were safely welcomed. For me, it was “bon voyage.”

So when a neighbor asked me years later, “Jim, how do you get rid of those turkeys?” my advice was simple and direct: “Stop feeding them.”

Which brings me from turkeys to tourists.

Two Montana state county commissioners, Josh Slotnick, a Democrat from Missoula County, and Joe Briggs, a Republican from Cascade County, are working together on a solution to alleviate the hardships imposed on Montana citizens by the historic property tax increase.

One of the first considerations in raising taxes is the political impact. And the best way to avoid that impact is to tax people who can't vote for you. And then the tourists, like the turkey, come ripe for the plucking.

The idea of ​​taxing tourists and using the revenue to offset increases in residential property taxes is not exactly new and has already been successfully implemented in several small tax authorities in Montana.

A tourism economy is not necessarily beneficial. There are costs associated with tourism that residents, not tourists, must bear, and the argument is that tourists should pay their share of those costs. There are things like the need to improve water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate the increased use caused by tourism. Places like West Yellowstone and the St. Regis Resort Area did not have the tax base to make improvements on the shoulders of residents alone, and the “resort tax” first implemented in West Yellowstone in 1987, I believe, helped the town tremendously.

Almost all of the towns in the Mountain West have experienced an economic shift from industry to what local governments see as their last chance: tourism. In Montana, tourism is now a major industry.

One of the reasons for this is the introduction of the Lodging Facility Use Tax in 1987, which was expressly intended to make Montana attractive to tourists from other states.

In the last fiscal year (2023), the 4% tax raised $59 million, of which 82.8% ($48.8 million) went to promote tourism in Montana. About 60.3% went to the Brand Montana program administered by the Department of Commerce and 22.5% went to regional tourism offices. (See

I once suggested to Parliament that it would be easier to tax tourists at the border. Years ago, there were actually barriers on the highways into Montana that, except when the roads were closed because of snow, remained symbolically open with a sign next to them saying “Welcome to Montana, the gate is open.” An attempt to revive them in Parliament in 1989 failed, but today it might be tempting to reinvent the quaint and simple wooden barriers with a toll barrier and a sign saying “Welcome to Montana, insert your credit card to open the gate.”

Conservatives who oppose government subsidies might ask why the state of Montana subsidizes a particular industry. An industry that generates an estimated $5.4 billion in revenue for Montana should be big enough to stand on its own two feet by now. Could the $48 million in tourism funding be used to reduce property taxes? Sure, but that's not going to happen because the industry is too invested in the subsidies to allow it to be diverted.

Still, at some point you have to stop feeding the turkeys.

Anna Harden

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