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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Employers Would Get a Tax Credit To Help Pay Down Employee's Student Debt

Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, listens as Eric Feaver of MEA-MFT testifies against his House Bill 239. The bill seeks to give employers a tax credit if they help pay the student debt of their eligible employees.
Jackie Yamanaka
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Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, listens as Eric Feaver of MEA-MFT testifies against his House Bill 239. The bill seeks to give employers a tax credit if they help pay the student debt of their eligible employees.
Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, listens as Eric Feaver of MEA-MFT testifies against his House Bill 239. The bill seeks to give employers a tax credit if they help pay the student debt of their eligible employees.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka
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Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, listens as Eric Feaver of MEA-MFT testifies against his House Bill 239. The bill seeks to give employers a tax credit if they help pay the student debt of their eligible employees.

A Republican from Winnett is worried about the student loan debt saddling college students.

Representative Bill Harris worries the debt load on college students may force them to leave the state and Montana employers are looking for workers.  He hopes his House Bill 239 bridges that gap.

“Young Montanans want to work. They want to own cars and homes. And many want to get married and start a family. They’re anxious to be part of their community. They want to apply the skills they worked so hard to acquire,” he said.

To help employers, his bill seeks to give them a slight tax break if hire and then they help pay down an eligible employee’s student loan debt.

Abigail Belcher of the Associated Students of the University of Montana supported the bill. She said it may encourage students to attend college because they won’t be so worried about student loan debt.

Webb Brown of the Montana Chamber of Commerce said this bill contributes to workforce development. Although he noted this is a tax credit that will ding the state’s checkbook during this current tough budget time.

And that’s exactly why Eric Feaver of the teacher’s union MEA-MFT rose in opposition to another tax credit.

“It’s terrible tax policy. You know it. You’re the tax committee,” he said. “There are about 30 tax credits already. Our tax code looks like swiss cheese. And what tax codes create is a constituency for that credit and so once adopted, those constituents will come in and session after session will fight to maintain their credit no matter how bad the state’s fiscal condition may be.”

The estimated cost to the state is just over $1.3 million a year. The fiscal analysis that accompanied the bill said the tax credit would need another part-time Department of Revenue employee. Because of the cost, Harris proposed an amendment with his bill to reduce the amount of the tax credit and delay the implementation date.

Harris introduced a similar bill during the 2015 Legislative session. It had passed the House but died in the Senate.

Copyright 2017 Yellowstone Public Radio

Jackie Yamanaka
Jackie Yamanaka has been news director at YPR since 1986. From her home base in Billings, Jackie covers a wide range of issues across Montana and Wyoming. During the Montana Legislative session, she re-locates to the state Capitol in Helena where she has another office.
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