Theresa Manzella’s recent letter to the editor is troubling. She obviously has no respect for Ravalli County’s elected school board members. But what is more shocking is her lack of understanding of the Montana Constitution and the basic principles of representative democracy. Yet she continues to loudly insist that she is a “constitutional conservative.”
Manzella’s insinuation that the 2017 legislature violated the Montana Constitution when it passed SB 307 is ludicrous.
Article VIII, Section 2 in its entirety reads as follows: “Tax power is inalienable. The power to tax shall never be surrendered, suspended, or contracted away.” It does not establish, as Manzella asserts, “an inalienable right of the legislature”—whatever that means. For school districts to function, the legislature has granted them taxing authority that is strictly limited by statute. The passage of SB 307 was well within the constitutional powers and duties of the Montana Legislature.
Manzella also has a habit of leaving out facts she finds inconvenient.
SB 307 did grant school boards the authority to levy up to 10 mills for maintenance projects. What she doesn’t mention is that the law mandates that all proposed permissive levies be publicly noticed several months prior to when school trustees establish tax levies, thus giving voters ample time to object. The bill also terminated an ineffective state grant program that was not responsive to local needs.
In total, SB 307 provided for greater local control, which we would have thought any conservative would support.
And what can Manzella be thinking when she says that a school board’s decision to impose a mill levy constitutes “taxation without constitutional representation”? Did she miss Article X, Section 8 of the state constitution, which calls for each school district to be supervised and controlled by “a board of trustees elected as provided by law”?
School district trustees are accountable to their voters. The remedy for over-taxation is to remove the offending trustees at the ballot box. This is an elementary application of representative democracy as envisioned by America’s Founders.
Manzella evidently believes that sitting in Helena she is in a better position to make local decisions than are local elected officials (and voters). We disagree with her enthusiasm for centralized government.
Theresa Manzella routinely shades the truth and interprets the constitution in whatever way suits her agenda. But misrepresenting the role of local elected officials to further her political career is beyond the pale. Is this the sort of person who ought to serve in the Montana Senate? We don’t think so.
— David Bedey, former chairman, Hamilton school board; Demaris Moore, former chairman, Hamilton school board; Mark Yoakam, former trustee, Hamilton school board
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