Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) Gov. Greg Gianforte touted Thursday a series of bills sent to his desk by lawmakers representing more than $1 billion in tax cuts in the first half of the legislative session.

“We now have a historic tax relief package providing Montanans the largest tax cut in state history,” said Gianforte, a Republican.

At a press conference, Gianforte said Montanans at every income level would see a benefit. His office estimated the package of bills includes more than $500 million in permanent income tax relief.

He praised the legislators who had sponsored the bills, on the way to his desk for signing.

“Ultimately, it’s not the government’s money. It’s Montanans’. It’s the money of the people that earned it,” Gianforte said.

An analysis by the Department of Revenue provided by the Governor’s Office shows the income tax cut for Yellowstone County is estimated at $42.2 million for the biennium, for example. For Ravalli County, the DOR estimates the cut will be $9.7 million for the same period.

Democrats have criticized the tax cuts as an irresponsible “spending spree” and have said they disproportionately benefit wealthy people.

In a news release Friday after the legislature adjourned for its midterm break, Democratic leadership said Republicans had worked to benefit the top 1%, second homeowners, and nonresident landowners.

“These are candy-coated gems to get votes, simply appealing to their wealthy base,” said Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, in a statement.

Gianforte, however, said the bills will provide immediate rebates and long-term relief, and will help grow the economy. He also touted an increase in the business equipment tax exemption to $1 million.

“This is 10 times what it was when I came into office,” Gianforte said.

He said it would help more than 5,000 small businesses.

The Montana Budget and Policy Center said an analysis of four tax bills shows the top 1% of earners get an average annual tax cut of $9,153; those with middle incomes, from $46,000 to $81,000, get $1,161; and those with lower incomes get a few hundred dollars on average at most.

(The bills the center evaluated are Senate Bill 121, House Bill 221, House Bill 192, and House Bill 222, for income tax cuts, property and income tax rebates, and capital gains tax cut.)

On the 44th day of the 90-day legislative session, the governor highlighted achievements including the following:

  • A lowered income tax rate in Senate Bill 121, sponsored by Sen. Becky Beard, R-Elliston. The bill lowers the income tax rate most Montanans pay from 6.75% to 5.9% and more than triples the earned income tax credit for lower-income people.
  • Property tax relief in rebates worth more than $280 million. House Bill 222, sponsored by Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon, provides a $500 property tax rebate in 2023 and 2024.
  • Raising business equipment tax exemption to $1 million. House Bill 212 is sponsored by Rep. Josh Kassmier, R-Fort Benton.
  • Investments of $100 million to repair roads and bridges through the SAFER Fund. House Bill 267 is sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell.
  • Paying off the state’s debt with House Bill 251, sponsored by Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. The governor said Montana will be “debt-free in ’23” and save $40 million over two years.

Although he celebrated wins at the press conference, Gianforte also took the House Appropriations Committee to task for tabling a child tax credit bill, House Bill 268, sponsored by Rep. Kassmier.

“These legislators are stalling this pro-family, pro-growth tax cut for the sake of hardworking Montana families,” Gianforte said. “Our friends in the legislature ought to get this bill across the finish line.

Gianforte urged lawmakers to keep House Bill 269 alive as well. Sponsored by Rep. Larry Brewster, R-Billings, the Local Disaster Resiliency Fund was tabled in committee on Feb. 15, according to legislative records.

Gianforte said failing to pass it would be “a dereliction of duty.”