By Martin Kidston
Saying taxes have become a central theme in Montana’s gubernatorial race, Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday unveiled a proposal to amend the state constitution to prohibit a statewide general sales tax, taking a direct shot at his GOP challenger, who expressed support for the tax at least once in the past.
Gathered in a small downtown Missoula business, Bullock took several shots at Greg Gianforte, accusing the Republican of speaking mistruths throughout his campaign and of proposing a statewide sales tax.
Bullock believes the tax would hit middle- and low-income Montanans the hardest.
“A statewide sales tax would hurt Montanans in every corner of our state,” Bullock said. “I’ll be asking the next Legislature to send voters a proposed amendment to amend Montana’s constitution to prohibit a statewide general sales tax, period.”
Late last month, the Montana Democratic Party released audio recorded in 2002 during a meeting of then-Gov. Judy Martz’s Income Tax Advisory Council.
While testifying before the council, Gianforte allegedly said that replacing Montana’s income tax with a sales tax was an “ideal solution,” one that could bring high-tech businesses to the state.
“The best solution, because our competition’s at zero income tax rate and zero capital gains, would be to replace the current income and capital gains rate with a sales tax,” Gianforte reportedly said. “I know that there are a few political issues and constitutional issues, but I didn’t think I’d be fair in coming here and not saying that I believe that is the ideal solution.”
In response on Monday, Gianforte said his “406 Tax Relief Plan” does not include a sales tax.
Instead, according to the Gianforte campaign, the tax plan looks to eliminate the business equipment tax in four years, allow no increase in state funding, and simplify income taxes to lower the maximum rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent.
“It’s sad that career politician Steve Bullock has to resort to stunts like this to cover his failed record on tax relief for Montanans,” said Gianforte spokesman Ron Catlett. “Back in April, Greg Gianforte proposed his 406 Tax Plan, which states that there will be no sales tax in Montana. The ‘0’ stands for zero sales tax.”
Bullock accused Gianforte of switching his stance on the issue to appease voters, noting that Montanans have twice in the past voted down a proposed statewide sales tax, first in 1971 and again in 1993.
Bullock believes the tax would disproportionately hurt seniors, those on fixed incomes and young people just entering the workforce. Banning the sales tax “once and for all” would have no impact on resort taxes or the local option sales tax, Bullock said.
“We’re talking about changing one line in our state constitution that allows for an up to 4 percent sales tax and making it clear that it’s not going to happen on the backs of working Montanans,” Bullock said. “For (Gianforte), a sales tax might seem like a sensible thing. After all, New Jersey has a 7 percent sales tax, one of the highest in the nation. That’s just not how we do things in Montana.”
Bullock will lobby the Legislature to place the proposal on the 2018 ballot.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org