MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Leading state lawmakers hashed out plans Monday for tax relief as senators rewrote a package that aims to provide a combination of property-tax rebates and income-tax credits. Leaders said the final mix will be determined later in negotiations between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, but both sides said they were eager to advance a bill with which they could work. The package advanced Monday on a 6-5 vote by the Senate Taxation Committee includes a laundry list of tax ideas, everything from the governor’s $400 homeowner rebate to a tax break for people driving fuel-efficient cars. The plan also includes new enforcement measures aimed at collecting more money from nonresidents and out-ofstate corporations. Leadership from both sides of the Legislature met in a morning session that included a representative from the governor’s office. Senate President Mike Cooney, D-Helena, said leaders agreed to get a tax-cut bill into a joint conference committee as quickly as possible. But there were no agreements on the specifics of the latest offering, endorsed in a Democrat-controlled committee Monday, Cooney said. “We have not talked about the details” of the tax cuts, Cooney said. House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, said the House would be pushing its ideas for tax cuts into another bill with the hope that it and the measure moving in the Senate will both go to a panel to negotiate differences. Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, said provisions to strengthen tax collections so-called “tax cheat” provisions that that House Republicans have killed in other bills will pay for the tax cuts. The tax committee chairman said both sides are now jockeying to “negotiate from a position of strength.” Republicans on the committee resisted many of the ideas, which include elements of more than a dozen bills that have met their demise amid partisan gamesmanship. “We took a 6-pound turkey and put 150 pounds of stuff in it,” said Sen. Kelly Gebhardt, R-Roundup. “I can’t support that.” The tax breaks in the bill, put together by Elliott, also include a tax credit for renters, a tax cut on business equipment that both sides have supported in some way, energy efficiency tax credits, and other ideas. Gov. Brian Schweitzer endorsed the Proposal, saying in a release that it is “an important step forward on permanent property tax cuts for Montanans.” The tax relief is expected to exceed $150 million over the next two years. The Department of Revenue said that by using the new enforcement powers, it expects to collect about $60 million in taxes owed the state. “This is a bill that basically collects taxes from nonresidents of the state of Montana and gives the tax breaks to the people of the state of Montana,” Elliott said. Another tax relief proposal moved forward Monday when the Senate endorsed a $25 million plan to repeal the so-called “water tax” on the water rights claims. The money is needed, supporters say, to replace the increased fee people are paying to speed up claims on water rights. The bill is House Bill 833.