Bill allows Montana counties near national parks to levy 4 percent sales tax

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, would offer counties surrounding national parks (including Glacier National Park) the option to implement a local sales tax. (Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current)

(UM Legislative News Service) Park County Commissioner Bill Berg said there are 250 times more visitors to Park County than there are locals.

“We can’t cover the cost of providing infrastructure and emergency services for ourselves as well as all those visitors. The math just doesn’t work,” Berg said. “The only direct way we ask visitors to pitch in is when they happen to buy a tank of gas. That’s welcome, but not enough to move the dial. We take pride in our hospitality, but something’s got to give.”

Berg was one of eight supporters of House Bill 435 during its public hearing Wednesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, would offer counties surrounding national parks the option to implement a local sales tax.

The bill would tax goods and services like gift items or meals at restaurants. A portion of revenue generated from the tax would be used to alleviate local property taxes. Communities that already have a resort tax would have to choose if they use the sales tax option or resort tax. However, the HB 435 allows for up to 4 percent tax, while the resort tax currently only allows up to 3 percent, unless the communities offset property tax.

Bob Story with the Montana Taxpayers Association was one of two opponents to the bill. He said the Montana tax system is fundamentally broken, but he sees the option tax as a quick fix.

“You know, our tax system doesn’t function under the current economy we have. There is a need to look at, seriously, a statewide consumption tax of some sort,” Story said. “If you want to solve the problem, you need a better tool than this one.”  

The House Taxation Committee tabled a similar bill, House Bill 195, in early February. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, would have given any county the option to implement a luxury sales tax to fund infrastructure projects.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.