By Keila Szpaller (Daily Montanan)February 15, 2021
The Republicans on the Senate Tax Committee tabled a bill on Friday that would allow homeowners, tenants, or people living in high-cost areas some income tax relief.
Senator Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, said Senate Bill 10 emerged from the Interim Revenue Committee and, as amended, has reached a monetary level that Governor Greg Gianforte could support. She described the bill as meaningful tax reform for people who need help most.
“When you knock on doors and talk to constituents, they talk a lot about property taxes and the rising costs that could affect whether or not they can stay in their homes,” Cohenour said at the meeting, later noting that later around 50,000 people would have benefited.
Home prices in Montana are rising dramatically. The trend has been seen in urban areas like Missoula and Bozeman for years and is showing up in rural areas too.
“We’re seeing property taxes go through the roof and people on fixed incomes and they have no control over them,” said Cohenour, the minority leader.
Gianforte, a businessman and Republican, has proposed a series of conservative tax reforms to GOP majority legislation to help build business and raise wages in Montana. A Senate panel heard a number of these tax cut proposals Thursday, including one that would help people in the upper income bracket.
“The one we heard yesterday definitely helps the richer Montanans,” said Cohenour. “It brings money to the upper echelons of our economy for people who don’t need it and who have weathered the pandemic well.”
In late November, the Montana Budget and Policy Center found that people were still struggling economically with the coronavirus pandemic. The center counted one in ten tenants who had not collected the rent and one in four miners “who struggled to keep up with typical household costs”.
At the meeting on Friday, Senator Greg Hertz, R-Polson, suggested that the bill be submitted and the committee voted 7-4 on the party lines. Hertz said the bill was solid policy, and he agreed that property taxes are a problem in the state.
At the same time, Hertz said he doesn’t believe property taxes are the fault of state tax policy. Rather, he said in many cases, voters are encouraging self-levies in their own communities, and local governments are also increasing people’s property tax bills.
He said he didn’t want to discuss the bills that had been heard the day before, but he had a different perspective on them: “It’s more like a bigger package for our economy to grow.”
SB10’s latest fiscal analysis finds that it would have cost around $ 30.1 million in government revenue in its first year, roughly the same as Senate Draft 159, which would benefit the highest income bracket.
In a Senate Democratic statement after the meeting, Cohenour contrasted the bills. The statement also noted that renters would have received an average tax cut of $ 466 and homeowners would have received an average credit of $ 979.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that Republicans turned down a bill to cut property taxes on up to 50,000 montans and make sure people aren’t being priced out of their homes,” Cohenour said. “Instead, Republicans spent the week glorifying tax bills that attract wealthy out-of-staters to Montana and provide tax aid to millionaires.”