Archive for February 27th, 2013

by lizard

Opposing the burden of paying taxes is an American tradition, going back to the origins of our independence. From the national conversation about the economy to the state’s legislative wrangling, questions of who pays and how much have become central in the debates over how to move our economy forward.

Montana state Republicans have two bills about taxes moving through the bowels of Helena:

One is House Bill 230 by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, which would cut the statewide school equalization property tax levy to 19.6 mills from the current 40 mills. It would cut property taxes for individuals and businesses by $50 million a year.

The other is HB472 by Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, for the Montana Chamber of Commerce to exempt the first $250,000 of business equipment from property taxes. Because it’s an exemption, businesses with more than $250,000 worth of equipment would be able to deduct the first $250,000 from the total value of their equipment.

As a state, we are able to talk about cutting taxes because we are one of only three states in the entire country with a budget surplus. And instead of long-term planning in uncertain times, both Republicans and Democrats are advocating for short-sighted measures.

Steve Bullock and MT Democrats are pushing for a $400 dollar rebate to property owners. Back in December, Bullock had this to say:

“We have a balanced budget and lower unemployment than many other states, and we turn around permits in many areas faster than our neighbors,” Bullock said.

He suggested that Montanans ought to be wary of making major changes threatening Montana’s fiscal stability.

“So let’s be a little bit skeptical, and let’s proceed cautiously when we hear of those that want to use that surplus and that sound fiscal management as the excuse to dismantle what I think is a pretty darn good system that exists in Montana,” Bullock said.

When Montana has more revenue than it needs, Bullock suggested finding ways to return it to Montanans.

He touted his plan to give one-time $400 property tax rebates to Montana residents living in their own homes. The program, which mirrors the one passed in 2007 at Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s urging, would cost $100 million.

Of course Democrats are going to be super eager to get this done, and of course Republicans are going to try and keep it from happening. Politics is all about the next election cycle, and giving property owners a $100 million dollar payoff for electing Democrats will be a great talking point for the next round of elections.

But in these uncertain times, is it smart policy?

A few days ago, a report on the cost of fighting fires looked at the potential of that cost doubling as houses continue to get built in the wild land/urban interface.

That is just one example. We also have a federal government in total disarray, putting any federal dollars we rely on at the state level in question.

I’m probably in the extreme minority when I say I don’t want a $100 million dollar payoff. I know it’s probably unrealistic to ask our state representatives to think and plan for the uncertain economic realities we will continue to face as a state, but that is exactly what I think they should be doing.

But that’s not what the conversation is about. If last night’s tweets from state rep. Bryce Bennett is any indication, the debate is about Democrats wanting to put $400 dollars in your pocket, while Republicans want to give you just $44 bucks.

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