MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Republican leadership unveiled details on their tax relief plans Tuesday with a promise that they plan to work with the governor on a package everyone can agree with. Both sides campaigned heavily last year on some form of tax relief although each promised different kinds. Negotiations and legislative maneuvering in the next couple of months will determine what Montanans will get. “I have said this publicly since Day One: I will work with the Senate. I will work with the House Democrats. I will work with the governor,” said House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings. “I will work with I will not be worked over.” Republicans control the House by a 51-49 margin, when including the conservative vote of a Constitution Party member. Democrats have the Senate by a 26-24 margin along with the bully pulpit and veto power of Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The GOP rolled out three bills Tuesday: one to cut property taxes, another to give tax credits for health insurance costs and an income tax refund for renters. Lange said the total cost would be about $385 million of the projected $1 billion surplus that is expected over the next two years. “What (voters) want us to do is work together in a sincere recognition of each other’s ideas,” Lange told the House Taxation Committee. Democrats in the Senate have already passed Schweitzer’s proposed $400 property tax rebate, Spending $50 million to freeze tuition rates at current levels over the next two years. Lange and other GOP leaders say their plan was meant as an addition to the governor’s proposal, not a substitute, because it wouldn’t have lowered tuition on its own. The governor’s proposal is included in his proposed budget. Lange said Democrats sent the state’s university students “a very clear message” with Tuesday’s vote. “We extended the hand of friendship and it was rejected,” he said. Democrats said they weren’t opposed to the concept of the bill as much as its timing. Rep. Holly Raser, D-Missoula, said lawmakers must approve several major funding measures including the state budget before considering the tuition cuts, and worried they might be making empty promises by passing the bill. “We’re trying to spread the peanut butter before we’ve got the bread,” she said. Republicans argued constituents want more than a tuition freeze, and said the bill was needed to direct any extra money at students. “This is a bill making a statement to students that we believe they should be looked at first and to go ahead and put the money in,” Rep. John Sinrud, Rbozeman, said. Other pieces of the GOP platform include three bills introduced by Lange on Tuesday: one to cut property taxes, another to give tax credits for health insurance costs and an income tax refund for renters. Several major Schweitzer administration initiatives, including a $400 property tax rebate and a $138 million school funding proposal, won bipartisan support in the Senate earlier this month. The governor also wants $50 million in tax breaks on business equipment and water fee reductions. The tuition bill is H.B. 194.