Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Serice) - The Senate Business Labor and Economic Affairs Committee heard testimony on a bill Tuesday that would give small businesses tax breaks as long as they pay their employees a wage of $15 per hour or more. 

Sen. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 259. She said paying employees a livable wage would help workers, economies and businesses thrive across the state. 

“Montanans deserve the freedom to be able to live where they work, and thrive where they work and live. And it circulates the money through the economy back to those small businesses,” Dunwell said. 

The bill would provide businesses with 30 employees or less with a $1,000 tax break per year, per qualifying employee. 

Each business cannot claim more than $25,000 in tax breaks in a year or more than they paid their employees overall. The tax credit would apply  n 24 eligible fields, ranging from bakers to agricultural workers. 

Two proponents testified for the bill, including Amanda Frickle, who represents the AFL-CIO. 

“We promote the dignity of work. We respect workers, and what this bill does is it adds dignity back into work. For those who work for a living, let's make sure that they actually can make a living when they do those jobs,” Frickle.

There was one opponent of the bill. Allen Lloyd is the Executive Director of the Montana Society of CPAs. He said the Montana income tax code was simplified in 2021, and adding tax credits could lead to overly complicated tax law in Montana. 

“Adding credits back into the code just starts the ball rolling to take us back to an overly complicated tax system. We oppose this bill and any bill that would add credits back into the Montana tax code,” Lloyd said.  

Lloyd suggested amendments that would add wiggle room for the Department of Revenue to adjust for future inflation as well as include more businesses to the list that could qualify for tax breaks.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.