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Barrett proposes constitutional amendment removing sales tax option

Dick Barrett

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – A bill heard in the Montana Senate Thursday would let voters decide if the state constitution should get rid of the option for a general statewide sales tax.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, is carrying Senate Bill 351, and has the governor’s support.

Barrett says a statewide sales tax would unfairly tax people with lower income.

“The higher your income, the lower the percentage of your income that you pay in tax. Or turn it the other way around, the lower your income, the higher the percentage of your income that you pay in tax,” Barrett said.

He also said the proposed constitutional amendment would not include a ban on local option or resort taxes.

Currently, the Montana Constitution gives the state the option of up to a 4 percent general statewide sales or use tax.

Bridger Mahlum with the Montana Chamber of Commerce says the chances of passing a statewide sales tax are slim. But, he said, “It is a potential tool in the toolbox as tax policy evolves over time, and the hurdles again that would be created through constitutionally disallowing this sort of tax to ever happen might be just one step too far.”

Since SB 351 would be a constitutional amendment, it would need a two-thirds approval from the entire Legislature. Then, it would need voter approval.

The initiative would show up on the ballot in November of 2018.

Cole Grant 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.