Archive for April 30th, 2007

by Jay Stevens

Montana Headlines pointed out a compromise forged by North Dakota Republicans on providing a tax rebate for its citizens in a fiscal situation similar to Montana’s. The details:

North Dakota property tax payers who also pay income taxes may take a credit on their income tax returns equal to 10 percent of the property taxes they pay. The credit is capped at $500 for individuals, and $1,000 for married couples and companies. Any unused credit can be used to offset future income tax bills, or be rebated as a voucher, which then can be used against a future property tax bill.

Of the North Dakota plan, MH writes, “…[this is] legislation that we imagine could have gained bipartisan support here in Montana.”

Were it only so.

The North Dakota plan actually closely resembles Governor Schweitzer’s one-time tax rebate for Montana households, not the Montana GOP’s “permanent tax relief.” As David Sirota recently pointed out,

Republicans were planning on using the usual conservative movement tactics that America has gotten used to. From the trickle-down playbook, they were readying an even bigger property tax cut – one primarily targeted at large corporations (many of which are based out of state).

That’s because the GOP plan would not have a cap, would redistribute the tax relief proportionally based on property tax. That means the largest property owners – big out-of-state corporations – would get the biggest refund, taking the biggest piece of the surplus pie out of the state and leaving the majority of Montanans with the crumbs.

Which would be okay, if all other things were equal.

But they’re not.

Middle class breadwinners actually shoulder as big or larger tax burden than their financial betters. Plus, the costs that are growing the fastest – health care and housing – unavoidable costs and affect the middle class disproportionately. And that’s not to mention that some of our out-of-state corporations who’d receive the lion’s share of tax refund from the state’s GOP are also some of the biggest tax cheats. Things are not equal, and I think it’s reasonable that Montanans demand a fair slice of the economic pie.

The North Dakota plan would be a slight move away from Schweitzer’s plan, giving corporations and married couples a slightly larger share than their single property-owning brethren. But such a cap would no doubt be completely unacceptable to Montana Republicans, who have scuttled the state budget and the legislative session to prevent such a tax rebate.

It’s funny then, that while Montana Headlines apparently sided with the Governor and Democratic legislators on what kind of tax rebate should be doled out to Montanans, he blames the Democratic party and leadership for failing to compromise:

But Republicans suspected that Democrats weren’t serious about any sort of compromise on long-term property tax relief, and until tax relief is decided on, there was — in their opinion — no point in discussing spending levels, since the process would likely end up with a “whoops, sorry, no money for tax relief!.”

And we’re to believe that the Gazette was politically slanted in its criticism of Republican leadership for hamstringing any potential for compromise? Gazette:

Yet a dissection of this failed session shows that the last clear chance to avoid the train wreck belonged to the House GOP leadership. Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, refused for 10 days to take any action on any of the major spending bills approved by the Senate. The usual process (in our now-outdated textbooks) would have been for the House to accept or reject the Senate’s amendments, and if the House rejected these major amendments, to form a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a compromise. That’s the way the system is supposed to work.

Yet that’s exactly what happened. By not returning the spending bills, House Republicans ensured that a joint House-Senate committee wouldn’t hammer out compromise spending bills. And when the Governor did approach House leadership with a compromise, Mike Lange responded by suggesting the Governor could put his compromise in Mikey’s rectum.

The Democrats have offered the state a tax refund. As the minority party, the House Republicans should have recognized that they wouldn’t have much input on the substance or form or philosophy of the rebate, but instead have suggested – like the rebate in North Dakota – that the rebate be bigger, aimed at families, included corporations, whatever.

And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The House Republicans are responsible for the session’s derailment. Even before the session started, the Speaker of the House declared war on the Democratic party and promised to obstruct the session. Let’s blame the car crash on the driver, not on the telephone pole he ran into.

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