By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Supporters of a bill aimed at reducing property taxes in Montana say the agricultural industry needs help because of dropping commodity prices.
House Bill 558 would reduce the amount of property taxes agricultural landowners and commercial properties pay in the state. Agricultural landowners would see a tax reduction of .15 percent, and commercial landowners would pay .11 percent less.
The House Taxation Committee heard testimony on the bill Monday.
Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, is carrying the bill and said right now, property taxes are scheduled for an automatic increase.
“What’s the result of being quiet and ignoring this? It’s a $32 million property tax increase on the people of Montana,” Hertz said.
Hertz said in prior sessions, mitigation has been a topic the taxation committee has spent a lot of time on. Mitigation is reducing the burden on a certain area of taxpayers.
He said this session’s report to the Legislature from the Department of Revenue didn’t mention mitigation.
“To me it was a blatant omission from that report that we’re no longer going to talk about mitigation and we’re just going to have an automatic tax increase without the Legislature doing anything about it,” Hertz said.
Mike Kadas, Department of Revenue director, opposed the bill and said it would counter pieces of legislation passed last session.
“I still believe that’s the best long-term solution for our property tax system — is to not have to adjust it every session,” Kadas said.
Eric Bryson, lobbyist for the Montana Association of Counties, opposed the bill.
“If this goes into effect, it does shift the burden of that tax obligation within mills at the county level and we oppose this bill,” Bryson said.
Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, chairman of the committee, supported the bill on his own behalf. Essmann said he owns property that would be affected if the bill fails.
“I’m here to talk about the hidden tax increase that will occur if this bill is not passed,” Essmann said.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.