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Resort tax district moves forward on 2019 Legislature lobbying effort

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Bill would allow voters to decide on 1-percent tax increase for infrastructure

By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – At the Dec. 21 meeting of the Big Sky Resort Area District, the board of directors heard from lobbyist Mark Taylor of Taylor Luther Group about the effort to introduce a bill in the 2019 Montana Legislature that would give resort communities and areas the ability to ask voters to approve a 1-percent resort tax increase, in order to pay for infrastructure needs.

A similar bill exploring a 1-percent resort tax increase, which would have been earmarked for funding affordable housing, died in a 25-25 vote tie in the Senate during the 2017 Legislature. Taylor Luther Group’s lobbying fee would be $50,000 total if the new bill becomes law; West Yellowstone Town Manager Dan Sabolski, who attended the Dec. 21 meeting, told the board that West Yellowstone would be willing to split the lobbying cost and has already budgeted the money.

Taylor said the timing of drafting the bill is crucial and the sooner that the process gets underway, the better chance it has of becoming law. He stressed the process of review and approval by each community should be done by the last week of January, when the bill ought to be ready to be introduced to the legislature.

“I would initiate the process in good faith over the holidays and get it ready for the respective entities,” Taylor said. He added that the November election results bode well for the bill passing this legislative session, as three of the senators who voted against the “Penny for Housing” bill in 2017 were replaced by people he thinks will be supportive. “The senate looks more favorable than it did last session,” he said.

And the House of Representatives in 2017 overwhelmingly approved the version of the bill with Gov. Steve Bullock’s amendments. While the bill doesn’t yet have a sponsor, Taylor said freshman Sen. Pat Flowers, a Democrat from Montana District 32, would likely be supportive and Rep. Kerry White, a Republican from House District 64, has historically supported the effort.

Board Treasurer Sarah Blechta voiced concern about the district being able to withdraw from the process if they don’t want to continue at any point. “I feel a little uncomfortable going forward without seeing a draft,” she said.

Director Mike Scholz responded that the entire board would need to sign off on the draft language of the bill before letting the subcommittee proceed with the process. The subcommittee consists of Vice Chair Steve Johnson and Secretary Paul “Buz” Davis.

“We should be able to come up with something that looks like a winner, based on the history of last legislative session,” Johnson said.

Board chairperson Kevin Germain described some of the infrastructure projects that would benefit from the additional resort tax revenue if this initiative is signed into law and approved by voters, including nearly $22 million for the planned Big Sky Water and Sewer District wastewater treatment plant upgrade; community housing that is 400 to 600 units short of the current need; and social services and environmental stewardship that would indirectly benefit from the additional revenue.

Davis and Johnson were planning to attend the West Yellowstone Town Council meeting Thursday, Jan. 3, the day after EBS went to press, where the proposed resort tax increase effort was on the agenda. The next Big Sky Resort Area District tax board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 8 a.m.

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