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Bill to exempt 1 percent bracket from Montana income tax fails

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HELENA – All House Democrats and some Republicans joined forces Wednesday to defeat a bill by a freshman Republican to cut taxes by $18.4 million the first year.

By a 57-43 vote, the House killed House Bill 143 by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, R-Superior.

The tally showed 18 Republicans and all 39 Democrats combined to vote against HB143, while 43 Republicans supported the bill.

It would have exempted income in the current 1 percent tax bracket from the state income tax. That would have exempted taxable income of less than $2,700 from being taxed.

After the first year, the tax reductions would have been about $13 million a year.

Opponents calculated the savings per taxpayer at $27 a year.

“That’s not enough to take ourselves out to dinner and let alone to a movie,” said Rep. Tom Jacobson, R-Great Falls.

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Schwaderer disagreed, saying: “It is a lot of money to a lot of people out there.“

House Appropriations Chairman Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, said he was against the bill for another reason. He opposed not taxing people who have taxable income of less than $2,700.

“Everyone should have skin in the game,” he said, adding, “If you make 10 cents, you should pay something on that 10 cents.“

Rep. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, said income tax revenues make up about half of the state general fund, which helps pay for many state services. She said the bill would cost $31 million over the next two years.

“I think that begs the question of what are our priorities this session?” she said, citing the need to fund schools, fix pension funds, along with bills with cuts in property taxes and income taxes.

House Taxation Chairman Mike Miller, R-Helmville, said, “This bill doesn’t spend one dime. It just doesn’t collect some taxes.“

Also defending the bill was Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, who said, “It will benefit some of the lowest-wage earners in the state and make our tax bracket a little less complex.“

Schwaderer said the state revenue estimates show the state still has ample revenue.

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

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