By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – The Senate rejected a House amendment Tuesday to a bill that would provide a tax exemption for property owners whose land value is at least double the value of the house or other property on the land.
The House passed Senate Bill 94 earlier this month on a 63-37 vote, but amended it to include income caps for a taxpayer to quality for the exemption.
The bill will now go to a conference committee, comprised of members from the House and Senate, to resolve the disagreement.
Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is the sponsor of the bill and asked the Senate to reject the amendment because of the impact on the state’s general fund.
“The House amendment raised the fiscal note 28 percent over the version that left this chamber,” Regier said.
Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, agreed with Regier. He said he also takes issue with the tiered income caps proposed by the House in the bill.
“In other words, you’re going to end up – as a result of that $1 increase in income – paying something, who knows, several hundred dollars more in taxes. Maybe several thousand dollars more in taxes,” Barrett said.
Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, is the only senator who agreed with the amendment. She said without the amendment, the bill doesn’t address people who actually need the break.
“There’s lots of people out there that are low income that can’t afford their property taxes – we’re not helping them. We’re helping people who have really valuable land up on Whitefish Lake,” Cohenour said.
With the amendment, individuals making less than $33,333 would have had to have land valued at 200 percent of the value of the residential property. For every $7,000, that percent was raised 50 percent. The amendment also provided adjustments for married couples who owned land.
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.