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Gianforte calls on lawmakers to pass tax relief proposals ‘as quickly as possible’

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Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) discusses the tax cuts and credits contained in his budget proposal during the first week of the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 5, 2023. PHOTO BY BLAIR MILLER / DAILY MONTANAN

By Blair Miller DAILY MONTANAN

Gov. Greg Gianforte wants to sign a property tax relief bill as soon as possible — and he wants to be sure counties are being good stewards of property taxes as well.

The Republican governor, speaking at his first news conference of the legislative session, said he would like lawmakers to make child tax credit legislation a priority as well to help families. At the news conference Thursday, he mostly reiterated his budget priorities unveiled in November, including:

  • A $1,200-per-child tax credit for children under age 6,
  • $1,000 property tax cuts for Montana homeowners in 2023 and 2024,
  • A permanent top income tax rate cut from 6.5% to 5.9% for people making $19,800 and up annually,
  • A $5,000 adoption tax credit, and
  • Expanding the business equipment tax exemption from $300,000 to $1 million for small businesses.

Gianforte said getting that property tax relief out to Montanans quickly required urgency from lawmakers.

He added that long term, he would like to “increase transparency” in how counties are using their portion of property taxes. He said he believes some are being fiscally irresponsible.

“Most counties are extremely good stewards of the resources that they receive,” Gianforte said. “Some have let spending get ahead of themselves, and we’re in discussions with the legislature about how to make sure that all the counties operate in a fiscally responsible way.”

Gianforte said the expansion of the business equipment tax exemption would remove 5,000 small businesses, farms and ranches from that tax roll, which he said would help them invest more money in their own operations and create more jobs.

He wants to expand the earned-income tax credit from 3 percent to 10 percent – “an aspect that was done specifically for lower-income Montanans,” Gianforte said.

The child tax credit, which has received a warm welcome from both parties, would help families pay for food, childcare and health care, according to Gianforte.

The governor said he felt “pretty comfortable” with where the proposal sat despite some pushback from both Democrats, who earlier this week said the budget proposals did not go far enough, and some Republicans who say they would like to spend more.

With an estimated $1.5 billion surplus, mostly from pandemic federal funds, Gianforte said the proposal aims to give money back to taxpayers with the one-time savings on property taxes – something both parties have agreed should happen.

“Just like you would as a homeowner, if you got a one-time bonus, you might fix your roof,” the governor said. “That’s not going to incur long-term negative impacts on expenses, but it does give you a new roof, and that’s really how we feel.”

His proposal includes $300 million for improvements at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs and nearly $200 million for an overhaul of the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge – both of which Gianforte said “we’ve been kicking the can down the road on … for far too long.”

The proposal aims to double the state’s rainy day fund and eliminate Montana’s debt this year.

“We don’t know what the economy’s going to do,” Gianforte said.

Lawmakers earlier this week heard bills in committee that would raise state employees’ wages and per-diem rates to help them “break even” and hopefully fill large numbers of vacant jobs statewide. Gianforte said he supports the effort.

“We have great state employees, and I’m pleased that working with the public sector union leadership, we were able to arrive at something that they were happy with, and we were happy with, that fits in the budget,” the governor said.

Gianforte said it was important for Montanans to reach out to their legislators to ensure lawmakers include the property tax relief many have been asking for, as well as their own priorities, and he stressed timeliness.

“I’d like to see all these key bills on my desk as quickly as possible,” he said.

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