Montana Public Radio

The Session Week 6: Tax Cuts, Right To Work and An End To Same Day Voter Registration

Feb 8, 2021

As of mid-day Friday, 594 bills had been introduced and Gov. Greg Gianforte had signed one bill into law. This week, we’re watching bills that would cut taxes, implement “right to work” policies and end same-day voter registration in Montana.

Senate Bill 159, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz, a Republican from Polson, would adjust the state’s income tax in its top bracket from 6.9%to 6.75%. The change would apply to annual incomes above $18,700. The bill gives legs to one of Gov. Greg Gianforte’s budget proposals, which must be implemented by the Legislature. Gianforte has argued a lower income tax rate is necessary to keep Montana competitive with neighboring states to attract businesses and high income earners. A study from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranks Montana’s tax climate as fifth best in the nation, in part because Montana has no state sales tax. The Tax Foundation ranks Montana’s individual income tax and property taxes around the nationwide median. The proposal would provide more tax relief to wealthier Montanans who would have more earnings eligible for the lower tax rate.

SB 159 is scheduled for a hearing in front of the Senate Taxation Committee Thursday morning.

The governor is also backing House Bill 303, the Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act carried by Rep. Josh Kassmeier of Fort Benton. HB 303 would exempt more small businesses from the state business equipment tax by raising the threshold for taxable equipment from $100,000 to $200,000. The governor’s office says about 4,000 businesses wouldn’t have to pay the equipment tax if the bill passes.

HB 303 is scheduled for a hearing in front of the House Taxation Committee Tuesday morning

As an alternative to Gianforte’s proposals, Democrats are pushing tax measures that would focus tax relief on lower-income Montanans, arguing that’s fairer and a better way to stimulate local economies. One measure they’ve said they prefer is Senate Bill 10 carried by Rep. Jill Cohenour, a Democrat from East Helena. It would create a “property tax circuit breaker,” an income tax credit refunding a portion of property taxes paid by an eligible owner or renter.

House Bill 251, sponsored by Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle of Belgrade, would ban unions from requiring dues or so-called fair share fees in unionized workplaces. Proponents of right to work policies say it’s important for workers to have the freedom to choose whether they’re affiliated with a union and that it will benefit businesses. Opponents, including many unions, say it weakens their organization and also allows workers in unionized workplaces to benefit from the work of the union without contributing.

A hearing for HB 251 scheduled in the House Business and Labor Committee for Feb. 5 was canceled.

House Bill 176, carried by Republican Rep. Sharon Greef of Florence, would end same day voter registration and move the deadline to register to vote to 5 p.m. the Friday before the election. Republican Sec. of State Christi Jacobsen calls the proposal one of her top five policy goals for the session, saying it will alleviate long lines and overburdened election clerks on Election Day. The Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders did not request the bill and is not taking a position. Advocacy groups representing Native Americans, students, people with disabilities and day shift workers have opposed the measure, saying it will disenfranchise people. A majority of Montana voters opposed a ballot initiative that would have ended same day voter registration in 2014.

The House passed HB 176 on Feb. 5 and it is now before the Senate.