Tax Break for Montana Businesses Inches Closer to Passage

Posted on April 7, 2011

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By CODY BLOOMSBURG

HELENA — Montana businesses may be getting a tax break next year. The House endorsed a measure Thursday that would cut tax rates by a third on equipment used to earn a profit.

Senate Bill 372, by Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, would reduce the business equipment tax to 2 percent on up to $2 million worth of property a business owns.

Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, said the measure would save at least $300 for every business that currently owns more than $20,000 of equipment.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, hailed it as the No. 1 “jobs” bill in Montana, saying the tax was scaring off oil rigs, mines and other equipment-dependent operations.

But he said it didn’t go far enough, and that the tax needed to go away completely.

“If this is all I’ll get then I’ll vote for it,” he said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer had proposed a cut to the tax, as well, but it was structured much differently and was killed in the Senate. While he has said reducing the tax is a priority, it remains to be seen if he will sign off on how SB 372 goes about it.

House Democrats said  the bill was a giveaway to big, out-of-state corporations and would not create a single job in Montana.

They also found fault with its plan to backfill the lost revenue by voiding a host of other tax credits, some of which helped people make their homes more energy-efficient.

“We’re balancing a nice tax break for three big oil refineries on the backs of local residents who use the tax credits to improve their homes and save energy,” said Rep. Mary McNally, D-Billings. “I’m sorry it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

McNally said the cut would give a little more than $63,000 to the largest companies in the state, which she thought would not be spent on more workers in Montana.

Other Democrats said now was the wrong time to be giving tax breaks while programs and services to Montana’s poor and infirmed are being cut. But Republicans insisted it was the right move.

“It is time,” said Rep. Bill Harris, R-Mosby. “I heard that it isn’t time. Well, it’s time.”

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at crbloomsburg@hotmail.com

Posted in: Daily Grind