Montana Government

Montana Government

Positions taken by the League of Women Voters Montana on issues affecting state and local government.
Position In Brief: 

The Montana Constitution:  

To promote a Constitution limited to fundamental law.

Declaration of Rights

To protect the right of citizens to a healthful environment, to privacy, and to freedom from discrimination.

The Executive Branch

To provide for alignment of executive agencies by function.

The Judicial Branch

To promote a unified court system with merit selection of judges, and equalized financing.

The Legislative Branch

To provide a partisan legislative body with single member districts based on population, meeting in annual sessions, with special sessions as needed.

State-Local Government

To provide a flexible and comprehensive framework of state law pertaining to local governments, including alternatives for local financing, and community and city-county land use planning.

State Government Finance

To provide a broad-based tax system that is equitable, provides adequate revenue, effectively administered and enforced. To maintain the permanent Coal Trust Fund, allowing appropriation if interest and income by the Legislature, requiring super majority of three-fourths of each house to approve withdrawing principal.

Vote by Mail

Expanded use of vote by mail for all elections.




Position History: 

Judicial Branch History

The League took no action to influence the Judicial Article of the 1972 Constitution because adequate study was not possible in time to reach a position. In 1975, the League adopted a position favoring merit selection of judges. In 1977, continued study led to adoption of a position favoring centralized administration of the court system. This centralized administration would be responsible for records, workloads, standards, finance, and personnel. The League supported equalized financing of courts as a means of equalizing court facilities.

In the 1977, legislative session, the League successfully supported a bill providing for a court administrator under supervision of the Supreme Court. The League also supported a bill providing for continuing legal education for judges and state funding for district courts, which at the time, failed to pass.

Constitution and Declaration of Rights History

In 1971, the Legislature approved a referendum calling for a Constitutional Convention, which was passed by the voters in November of that year.

The State League then adopted a study of the Montana Constitution, which was concluded in time to take action at the Constitutional Convention, convening January, 1972. League members testified and wrote letters throughout the 54-day session, and worked to inform the public of the intent and wording of each article in the new Constitution. The Constitution was passed in June 1972.

The Declaration of Rights in the Montana State Constitution is an important reaffirmation of fundamental principles on which our government is based. The Montana State Constitution of 1972 added three protections for Montana citizens in addition to those already guaranteed under the United States Constitution.

Legislative Branch History

The 1972 Constitution provided for annual sessions of not more than 60 legislative days, with special sessions to be called by the governor or by written request of a majority of the members of the Legislature. Annual sessions were held in 1973 and 1974; a special session immediately followed the 1973 session to finish the work. A constitutional amendment in 1974 was passed, providing biennial sessions of no more than 90 days in odd-numbered years.

The 1972 Constitution, supported by the League, provides for no more than 100 single-member House districts, with two House Districts comprising a Senatorial district.

Prior to 1972, the Legislature reapportioned itself. LWVMT supported the 1972 Constitutional provision for a commission of five citizens, none of them public officials, to reapportion and redistrict the Legislature after each federal census. The majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House each appoint one commission member; these four select a fifth person who serves as chair.

Local Government History

Under the 1889 Montana State Constitution, local governments had no powers expressly granted to them by the Legislature. In the 1960s the League called for relaxing state government control over local planning, for allowing cooperative agreements among local governments, and for improving administration of property taxes, as well as support for city-county consolidation efforts, and for a legislative study of special districts. In 1971 the League supported constitutional provisions to empower local governments to assume powers not specifically denied them by constitutional or statutory law, allowing local governments to adopt charters under proper procedures. In the 1971 Legislature, the League supported two successful bills: allowing county commissioners to establish subdivision regulations; and empowering cities and towns to require a waiver of the right to protest annexation if the city or town furnished sewer and water services in an area to be annexed.

A unique provision of the 1972 Montana State Constitution requires voter review of local government every 10 years. Two local government consolidations, fourteen charter governments, and hundreds of inter-local agreements have occurred because of this provision.

Taxation for both state and local governments continues to be a major issue. Montana grows more diverse, and local governments need more flexibility to face the impact of growth in major urban areas, the proliferation of suburbs, and increasing tourism, recreation, and development of second home resort areas.

Finance History

The League supported the balanced budget provision in the 1972 Constitution. In addition, based on a 1979 study, reaffirmed in 1988, the League has strong positions on three basic issues: taxation, the budget process, and severance taxes.

The League has called for efficient and equitable financing of public education, with the state fully funding a high quality basic education and state-mandated education-related services. Primary goals are equity of funding and equity of taxpayer effort.

The League supports a balanced and progressive tax system which yields sufficient revenue to fund government services. Diversity yields stable revenue and prevents reliance on a single tax source, particularly one with a narrow base. An equitable tax system considers ability to pay and the relative burden of taxpayers. Taxes need to be easy to compute and pay, difficult to evade, and not expensive to collect.

Budgeting should identify state goals and priorities, and relate funding levels to program goals. In 1982 the League recommended program review and evaluation, identification of agency and program priorities, accurate revenue estimates in the executive budget and the appropriation bills, and clear relationships between programs and revenue sources.

The League opposes the proliferation of earmarked funds because of their detrimental effects on responsive, accountable budgets and on program management. The League supports vigilant public involvement in the biennial review by the Legislative Finance Committee of all existing revenue dedication provisions.

Mail-In Ballot History

At their 2006 Annual Meeting, Members of the League of Women Voters of Ravalli County agreed to conduct a study of Alternative Voting Systems other than the traditional polling place/absentee voting system then in use in Montana. The study was precipitated by significant recent changes in Montana election systems: the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act which brought electronic vote counting machines; public concern over the accuracy and security of these new machines; and LWVUS Resolutions SARA and CARL that affirmed League support for voting systems that employ voter-verified paper ballots or records and routine random audits.

The study focused on a vote by mail system similar to the one then in use in Oregon. It was judged using LWVUS criteria of whether it was secure, accurate, recountable, accessible, transparent (SARAT) and cost effective.

Ravalli County LWV adopted their Vote by Mail Position at their April, 2007 Annual Meeting. The LWV of Montana concurred with their position the following month. This allowed League members to participate in the Interim Study of Vote by Mail in 2007/2008, advocating for a pilot program to determine if Montana should allow vote by mail for federal as well as state and local elections. In May, 2012, delegates to the Annual Business Meeting voted to specifically add county and school elections to the previous list.

Privitazation of Government Functions History

The League's interest in privatization began as a result of the failure of the state contract privatizing mental health services. The study was approved by the State Convention on May 15, 1999, and later extended until June 2001 by the State Board.

The study focused on state and local government units. The goal was to analyze the pros and cons of privatizing government The study was intentionally limited to privatization measures likely to be considered by state and services and products, to provide guidelines to used in deciding whether or not to privatize functions, and to determine what safeguards and provisions should be included in the contracts in the event of a decision to privatize.

The position was adopted by the State Board on September 7, 2001.

Judicial Branch 

The League of Women Voters of Montana supports:

        • A managerial position in the judicial branch of state government to provide centralized administration of the court system.
        • A uniform method of record-keeping, equalization of workloads for judges, equalized financing of the courts, and adequate training of personnel.
        • Requiring counties to maintain minimum standards for court facilities.
        • Requiring judicial personnel to utilize continuing education opportunities, and making such opportunities more readily available.
        • Merit selection of judges.

           Revised May, 2012

State Constitution

The League of Women Voters of Montana supports:

            • A State Constitution limited to fundamental law, outlining the framework of government and delegating powers;
            • The right of each citizen to a clean and healthful environment;
            • The right of individual privacy, which is essential to the well-being of a free society and not to be infringed upon without the showing of a compelling state interest.
            • Freedom from discrimination against persons for reasons of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas.


            Revised May, 2012

Legislative Branch 

The League of Women Voters of Montana suppor

                • Annual sessions.
                • The Legislature, as well as the Governor, has authority to call special sessions with unrestricted agenda.
                • Reapportionment by a commission.

                   Revised May, 2012

State Finance

The League of Women Voters of Montana supports:

                • Fair and equitable tax reform which would give local governments the ability to use alternative sources of revenue without increased reliance on gambling revenue.
                • Broadening the framework of Montana law which allows local citizens flexibility to adjust governmental structures and services to fit particular areas and needs including:
                  • Latitude for innovation in urban areas and more support in rural areas to meet state mandates, particularly air, water, and public health protection; and
                  • Distribution of Federal funds allocated to state departments to meet Federal mandates, based upon need, population, and scope of impact;
                • The unique voter review process that is submitted to local voters every ten years;
                • Community and city-county land-use planning to give direction for orderly growth and to balance the interests of suburban and urban areas in annexation proceedings;
                • Improvement of the administration of the property tax system in Montana by developing methods to reflect current market value for determination of property tax;
                • A comprehensive survey of state and local revenue in Montana, including the impact of special districts on local governments, by a reliable body responsible to the legislature, executive, or both.
                • Allowing local governments the ability to raise revenue to carry out state mandates through local-option taxes (e.g., real estate transfer tax, resort tax, and local impact fees.
                • Encouraging cost-sharing contracts by local governments with state government departments.
              • Position on the Budget

                The League of Women Voters of Montana supports:

                  • The balanced budget provisions in the Montana Constitution as an adequate spending limitation;
                  • The executive budget amendment authority in the Montana Constitution;
                  • An accountable, responsive state budget process based on program planning principles, with meaningful participation by the public, legislature, and executive agencies from the earliest planning stages through adoption and oversight;
                  • Promotion of efficient and equitable funding of all state-funded services, including education;
                  • Diverse sources of revenue, with emphasis on progressive tax structures, user fees, and severance taxes;
                  • Control of the number and establishment of dedicated revenue accounts and public involvement in their biennial review by the Legislative Finance Committee;
                  • Consideration of both state and local tax structure and burdens in evaluating Montana's tax system;
                  • Severance taxes, including a coal severance tax, that address the current and future impacts of resource development and provide an appropriate level of revenue to the state;
                  • The partial allocation of severance tax proceeds to trust funds to meet future needs, including dedication of 50% of the coal severance tax revenue to the permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund;
                  • Maintenance of the permanent Coal Trust Fund without a cap;
                  • Appropriation of interest and income from the Permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund by the Legislature.
                  • Super-majority vote of three-fourths (3/4) if each house to approve withdrawing principal from the permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund, and then only under catastrophic circumstances.
                  • Investment policies for the permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund which include consideration of the state's economic development goals.


To promote the use of definite criteria to be used in judging whether or not government functions should be privatized and, if it is decided by the legislature or other decision-making bodies to privatize, to provide safeguards for citizens in contracts with private providers. League of Women Voters of Montana supports the following procedures: In deciding whether or not to privatize a government service or product, the following criteria must be considered:

      • The existence of competition or the lack of it among potential providers;
      • Accurate cost estimates, including direct and indirect costs, to provide the service or product from both the government agency and the private service;
      • Whether or not adequate technical expertise and equipment are available to the government agency providing the service;
      • The potential impact of privatizing on government employees, such as substitution low wage, no benefit jobs for higher wage jobs with benefits;
      • The government agency's ability to improve its services as an alternative to privatizing.
      • The probability that privatizing will improve the service or product;
      • How essential a service or product is the health, safety, and welfare of the state or community, and how disruptive a failure of a privatization contract might be.

      If government policy makers decide to privatize public services, the following safeguards are essential:

      • Trained staff available to write and monitor contracts, with access to the provider's records for this purpose;
      • The government agency remains responsible for the services provided and for the contractor's performance;
      • A back-up plan is ready if the privatization project fails;
      • Services must be maintained, or improved cost effectively;
      • Periodic audits should be scheduled by the supervising agency, and penalties applied for performance failure.
      • Government should receive fair market value for property paid for with tax money that is transferred to a private company.


      • Special additional considerations are essential in any plan to privatize "soft services" for vulnerable populations such as the very young, old, poor, incarcerated, or mentally or physically handicapped. Important safeguards are:

    • Minimal disruption during transition from public to private delivery of services;
    • Evaluation of private provider's performance by government staff and by independent evaluators with expertise;
    • Clear grievance procedures for addressing service problems, including denial of service;
    • Recognition that the quality of services is more important than monetary savings.


Mail-In Ballots

                  • The LWVMT supports expanded use of vote by mail for all elections.

                     Revised May, 2012

League to which this content belongs: 
Montana League of Women Voters