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Montana Republicans seek business tax cuts

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Republican leaders pitched their plans Wednesday to cut business equipment taxes and argued that the state's clean energy tax break should be expanded to include fossil fuels.

The business equipment tax cut proposal will compete with one from Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, which is more focused on smaller businesses.

The GOP plan would cut in half, from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, the business equipment tax on the first $10 million of property. It would cost the state about $5 million per year in lost revenue once fully implemented.

Republican Taxation Committee chairman Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell told the rest of the panel that he hopes the cut would spur the construction of manufacturing plants that can bring good-paying jobs. He said it would be too expensive, about $150 million over two years, to fully eliminate the business equipment tax.

"This is the bite I have decided to take so we can do it," Tutvedt said.

A broad reduction in the equipment tax long reviled by business groups, who argue it is unfair and impedes investment in the state, was a staple of Republican campaigns during election season.

Bullock's proposal would seek to raise the tax-free threshold on business equipment from $20,000 to $100,000, and cost about $6 million per year. He argues that would focus the benefit on the state's smaller employers by eliminating it altogether for 11,000 businesses, and keep it in place for large corporations that can afford it.

The governor's office did not oppose the GOP plan at the hearing.

A spokeswoman said the governor's tax priorities are a proposed $400 rebate for homeowners, and is plan to raise the threshold on business equipment tax.

"While there are many other proposals out there, the governor believes his measures are the best ways to create jobs," said Judy Beck.

Tutvedt said that he hopes that means Bullock is open to negotiation on the matter.

"I think the governor is going to take a look at it," Tutvedt said. "I think there will be some give and take."

Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, also unveiled a proposal at the hearing to extend the so-called clean and green tax credit to all new power plants. He said it is unfair to pick one energy source over another and argued federal incentives for wind energy are sufficient.

"It simply levels the playing field for all forms of power so they compete on their own merits," Wittich said.

Critics argue the incentive aimed at spurring wind energy should not include coal or gas.

"We don't believe a clean and green tax incentive should be going toward fossil fuels," said Kyla Maki, with the Montana Environmental Information Center. "We would probably have to change the name of the clean and green tax incentive to the dirty tax incentive."