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Articles written by Eric Dietrich

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  • Gianforte announces Montana National Guard deployment to Texas border

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Apr 7, 2024

    Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday that the state is deploying a small number of Montana National Guard troops to the nation's southern border, describing the action as an effort to help the state of Texas police cross-border drug trafficking in light of what he described as inaction by the federal government. According to the announcement, 10 Montana National Guardsmen have volunteered for active duty as part of Texas' Operation Lone Star. The Guardsmen are scheduled to...

  • Gianforte says statewide sales tax off the table as his property tax task force gears up

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Feb 23, 2024

    Addressing his property tax task force at the group's first formal meeting Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte had two big messages: Figure out how to bring some permanent tax relief to Montana homeowners - and don't do it by recommending a statewide sales tax. "As we and all Montanans know too well, property taxes are too high. That's why we're here - Montana homeowners need relief," Gianforte said, detailing a list of goals that includes slowing how fast property taxes are...

  • Do you earn tips? Montana now taxes them.

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Jan 23, 2024

    Among several changes to Montana's income tax system that took effect at the beginning of the year is a provision that makes income from tips subject to state taxes. The shift aligns Montana with the federal tax system, in which tips have long been taxed alongside salaries and wages. It also means that many service-sector workers will likely have their state income tax obligation increased by hundreds of dollars a year. The change was made by the 2021 Legislature as part of...

  • Montana population growth slows

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Jan 9, 2024

    After years of new arrivals swelling Montana's population and straining its housing supply, new data released Dec. 19 by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the volume of net migration into the state has declined. As of July 1, 2023, the federal demographics agency estimates Montana had 1,132,800 residents. That's about 9,900 more than a year prior, or a 0.9% increase. While that's a lot of new Montanans - roughly as many people as the populations of Belgrade, Miles City or...

  • Montana Supreme Court says counties wrong on 95-mill tax issue

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Nov 29, 2023

    The Montana Supreme Court Wednesday ruled against Montana county governments in a dispute over the Montana Department of Revenue's authority to order the full collection of the 95-mill state-level school equalization levy, a formerly obscure piece of tax bills that became a flashpoint this fall as state and local officials contended with frustration over rising property taxes. The ruling means that the 49 of 56 Montana counties that chose to collect a lower, 77.9-mill rate on...

  • NorthWestern Energy electric rates higher than regional peers

    Amanda Eggert and Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Nov 15, 2023

    Montana's utility regulation commission has come under criticism recently for an agreement that lets the state's largest power company, NorthWestern Energy, implement a 28 percent residential electric rate increase. With some help from retired MTN News reporter (and occasional MTFP contributor) Mike Dennison, we've compiled a comparison of the residential electricity rates charged by different utilities around the region, estimating the typical monthly electric bills paid by...

  • Montana counties, governor spar over property tax that funds schools

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Sep 20, 2023

    Months of finger-pointing between state-level Republicans and local government leaders over who to blame for rising property taxes escalated last week as the lobbying organization that represents county governments sent a late-night press release that, among other points, singled out Gov. Greg Gianforte's personal property tax bill. The release, sent by the Montana Association of Counties at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, said the association's math shows that taxes on Gianforte's...

  • Governor nixes pay bump for Montana legislators

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated May 16, 2023

    Gov. Greg Gianforte has vetoed a bill raising the wages paid Montana legislators, arguing the proposed increase - from about $16 to $24 an hour starting in 2025 on top of already-approved per-diem increases - was disproportionate to increases the Legislature had authorized for state employees. "As has been the case since before our nation's founding, public service comes with personal sacrifice - long hours away from home, less time with family, and appropriately limited compe...

  • Gianforte signs $1 billion Republican tax rebate, tax-cut package into law

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Mar 14, 2023

    Flanked by dozens of Republican lawmakers on the steps of the state Capitol, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a tax cut, rebate and spending package totalling more than $1 billion Monday. The eight-bill package, which provides short-term property and income tax rebates and also cuts state income taxes on an ongoing basis, puts a major slice of the state's estimated $2.5 billion budget surplus toward what the governor called "the largest tax cut in Montana history." The bills also...

  • GOP bills would require re-votes on some local property taxes

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Feb 22, 2023

    A slate of bills advanced by a prominent Republican lawmaker would try to lower Montana property taxes by requiring revotes on some local tax levies while also raising the approval margins required to pass levies and bond measures in low-turnout local elections. Senate Taxation Committee Chair Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, said at a Wednesday hearing before his committee that he believes rising property taxes are the "No. 1 concern" for many Montana residents and voters. Hertz...

  • Eric Dietrich, Deputy Editor - Montana Free Press|Updated Sep 7, 2022

    This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest that showcases a more personal side of Montana Free Press’ reporting. There’s a theory I hear often while reporting stories on Montana’s population growth: That many of the new arrivals flooding into the state are making their relocation decisions based on political identity — conservative arrivals flocking to reliably red areas where they can find neighbors with shared values, and liberals gravitating to the state’s blue urban cores....  Website

  • Districting commission takes an initial look at public-proposed U.S. House district maps

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Sep 22, 2021

    HELENA - The commission tasked with dividing Montana into two U.S. House districts for the first time since the 1980s asked the public for input last month. Montanans responded with an earful, submitting 231 proposed maps, some of them duplicates, and more than a hundred pages of written comment as of an initial deadline this week. The proposals are, literally, all over the map. They include efforts that group most of the state's urban areas into a single district and divide...

  • Bullock says post-COVID re-opening plan coming

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Apr 22, 2020

    HELENA - Gov. Steve Bullock said at a Friday, April 17, press briefing that his administration is in the process of developing a plan for scaling back anti-coronavirus social distancing measures as the number of new coronavirus cases declines. "By next week we'll have a deliberate plan for reopening," he said. Montana is currently under a number of anti-coronavirus directives that have shuttered schools, halted dine-in food service and asked residents to stay at home to the... Full story

  • Montana is the oldest state in the West

    Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press|Updated Sep 4, 2019

    HELENA - Montana is, in fact, a country for old men, and women too, according to demographic statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicate that based on median age, Montana holds the distinction of grayest state in the west. And certain stretches of the state - including many but not all rural counties - have considerably older residents than Montana as a whole. That state of demographic affairs has wide-ranging implications for regional economies, education systems,...

  • Eric Dietrich, Long Streets Project|Updated Dec 19, 2018

    On the list of ideas for tackling the twin challenges that plague Montana workers - scarce rural jobs and low wages even in cities - telework is close to the top. As better internet access connects even far-flung rural communities with the rest of the world, it seems to promise Montanans a way to have their cake and eat it too: a fulfilling career at a city wage without having to leave the Last Best Place. The notion has been embraced by business leaders and officeholders...  Website