Accountable To The People:
Require Revenue Department Transparency
Recently I presented a bill requiring the Montana Department of Revenue to post on its website the number of its employees and their job descriptions, the performance measures used to evaluate goals and objectives, changes to administrative rules, the methods used to calculate taxable value, and other information.
Government must be accountable to the people. This bill is a step to build for a future where Montana's citizens can be fully informed of everything their government does, with the information easy to get and at no cost.
Paying taxes is never pleasant. But when from start to finish it's a mystery, and you're never allowed to understand anything but how much you owe, it's easy to see why citizens get frustrated.
I have heard from a number of citizens who have concerns not only about how their money is spent, but how their tax dollars are collected. People want to know about the workings of their government. It's not enough for the government to simply say "Trust me." To build real trust, we have to let the people see for themselves how the process of tax collection works.
The current reappraisal process for property taxes is a prime example. If homeowners are able to see how the money is being collected and the rules by which decisions are made, it will reduce their anxiety. Right now, we've got rumors flying all over the state about a 50 percent increase in people's tax bills. The way to put a stop to rumors is with full and complete information.
This bill does not make an inordinate request of the Department of Revenue. Transparency isn't radical, and it isn't hard. It's just open communication. This data is already available -- all they would have to do under HB508 is link it to the department web site.
The bill requires certain information to be posted on the website. For example, the department must publish their organizational chart, the total number of employees, and the position description for each. They would also be required to publish their goals and objectives, and the performance measures they use to determine whether or not those goals and objectives are being met. Additionally, HB508 asks the department to publish the capitalization rates they use to determine the value o class four property.
This bill sends the right message to the people of Montana. We are here to work for the taxpayers. They are our supervisors, and they have every right to check our work. Our citizens ask for and deserve complete access and ease of understanding. Not everyone can come to Helena to attend legislative committee hearings, let alone the administrative rule hearings when the Department of Revenue schedules those. An open and easy website is the perfect solution.
The House Taxation Committee, which I chair, will vote on this bill this week. I sincerely hope the other members of that committee are committed to making our government accountable to the people. HB508 is a chance to improve public participation in the democratic process, and I hope it passes.