HELENA – Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Democratic nominee for governor, proposed Monday giving one-time property tax rebates of $400 apiece to Montana homeowners by taking $100 million from the state’s general fund surplus.

In his first proposal since winning the Democratic nomination last week, Bullock borrowed a page out of Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s playbook. Schweitzer successfully steered the $400-per-homeowner rebates through the Legislature in 2007.

“Montana’s fiscal management has left us in a better position than nearly any other state, and because of that, we can invest in our priorities and return money to taxpayers,” Bullock said.

His plan would use the $100 million from the state’s projected $400 million-plus general fund to pay for the rebates.

Under the plan, Montana homeowners could apply for a property tax rebate on their principal residences, but not second homes. Out-of-state owners of Montana homes would be ineligible. Renters would get no rebates.

Bullock said his top priority as governor will be to create jobs and grow Montana’s economy.

“Implementing this tax rebate will lead to millions of dollars being spent on Montana, being spent on Montana businesses,” he said at a news conference in downtown Helena. “If you’re an average Montana family and receive a $400 check, you’re going to take the kids out to dinner, put a down payment on a snowmobile, maybe buy some fencing.”

In response, Republican nominee Rick Hill criticized Bullock’s plan and called instead for permanent property tax relief for homeowners and small businesses. He estimated his plan would lower property taxes by $100 million annually on a permanent basis every year and not be a one-time $100 million rebate.

“Montanans and our job creators need permanent property tax relief, not a one-time gimmick that won’t do anything to stimulate the economy,” Hill said in a statement.

Hill advocated coming up with the money by using surplus state funds and future revenues from expanding oil and gas development to cut property taxes and change how Montana funds education. Another revenue source, Hill said, would be future lease and royalty income from the Otter Creek coal development. Although leased, no coal has been mined at Otter Creek yet, and environmental groups have challenged the Land Board’s decision to lease the state-owned coal.

“This is the first step in our long-term tax reform plan to shift education funding away from property taxes and on to natural resource reviews,” Hill said.

Bullock’s plan picked up the backing of businesswoman Shalon Hastings, who owns Taco del Sol, a Mexican restaurant in Helena.

“I would love to see this being implemented,” she said at the event. “It will mean so much for all of us small business owners here in the state of Montana. We’ll have more money to reinvest in our businesses and create more jobs, which in turn just creates a better economy for Montana.“

Bullock was asked why he didn’t instead propose using the $100 million to make up for cuts in human services and other programs the past two legislative sessions.

“What we’re proposing is a balanced approach,” he said. “This won’t be the be-all and end-all.“

Bullock said he later will propose “additional investments in education, infrastructure and other things.“

Schweitzer’s $400-per-homeowner rebate program proved to be a popular one in 2007.

The state Revenue Department said 238,524 Montana homeowners received rebates totaling $93.8 million. Ninety-eight percent of homeowners who applied for the program received the rebates.

The cost of administrating the program was slightly more than $1 million.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

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(10) comments

sallymander

I'm a renter and pay high state income tax. Why don't I get a rebate too? I think if someone were to fight it that a homeowners only rebate would be declared unconstitutional. Better yet keep the money in a rainy day fund. Economic problems aren't over for the middle class especially if Romney gets elected.

madtaxpayer

All this would do is cost us more at the end of the year! remeber when babama gave us all and extra $3.00 per check? I didn't want it and I had to pay an extra $1,000 at tax time for it!!!

Giving us money only costs us money! Keep my $400 I don't want it back, it will only cause me more pain at tax time!

Tronski

Ironic that somebody with the screen name 'mad tax payer' would be upset about getting some of their taxes back. If paying taxes makes you mad, then shouldn't getting tax dollars back make you happy?

madtaxpayer

why should I be happy to get taxes back, when I'd only only be taxed immediately on the $400 check (which would leave me with $280 after 30% tax) and then taxed again at the end of the year for that extra $280? makes no sense, it's just another reason to tax us again and again and again for one amount.

nemo

Precisely. To return property taxes in the form of a rebate is sleight of hand. The rebate will be considered income at both the state and federal level at tax time. Taxed twice on the same money, quite the hose job. A tax credit or property tax cut is the real answer. This is grandstanding by a pandering politician looking to ascend the ladder.

mtmike

I have to LOL that the so called "news" article contains a reference to an owner of a Taco stand as a driver of economic growth. That's pretty amusing. Bullock better come up with a better arguement or he is toast, and I'm not a fan of his opponent..

Get off the class warfare BS Steve and actually provide some ideas, then I might listen. Demo talking points from DC won't serve you well in this state.

Scoop

Another politician trying to buy your short term vote at the expense of long term economic growth. Ironic how North Dakota announced today they are considering getting rid of ALL property taxes because of their resource wealth. Bullock looks totally puny and out of touch. No wonder people call him Obullock. Next he'll tell us the private sector in Montana is doing just fine...

DrAmerica

" He said Montanans would spend the rebates at small businesses across the state". Evidently, Mr. Bullock is quite the psychic. He somehow knows how each and everyone in Montana will spend a few hundred bucks and somehow when they do this, the Montana Economy will rocket to the stars. Praise God, he's bought, er, got my vote !

JWintheRattlesnake

What a disappointment Steve Bullock is turning out to be. Instead of offering a constructive fix to the issue of high homeowner property taxes, Bullock decides to play petty politcs and give a one-time bribe to homeowners in hopes it buys him some votes this November so he can let property rates stay high until the next election cycle. That isn’t leadership, that is petty politics at its worst. And to think I once considered voting for him. Not now.

sportscaster

Well said. Bullock needs to explain just how giving each individual eligible homeowner $400 will create jobs. If they are lucky the best it will do is help pay off some of their debts. I've never favored these kinds of rebates before, and don't now. I don't need the payoff, Mr. Bullock, not that I would have voted for you anyway. Let's hear some real ideas on how to pump up Montana's economy.

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