MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Democrats pushed revamped tax relief plans through the Senate late Tuesday over Republican objections to increasing tax collections from corporations to pay for the cuts. The measure includes Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s $400 per homeowner rebate, a credit for drivers of fuel-efficient cars, an ongoing tax break for those making less than $45,000 a year, a cut on the state’s business equipment tax and other measures. It was endorsed on a 26-24 vote. More controversial provisions increase the Department of Revenue’s enforcement powers against nonresidents and close alleged “loopholes” used by out-of-state corporations, which supporters say are needed to pay for the tax cuts. “This is tax policy for the people of Montana, not tax policy for the out-of-state corporations,” said sponsor Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek. He said Democrats need the bill to negotiate the final mix of tax relief with House Republicans. Opponents called it a compilation of a number of failed measures. They also said it is wrong to cobble together 14 bills so late in the session and push them through as one package. “I really do care what’s in this bill, but I have no idea what’s in this bill because there is no way we can figure it out,” said Sen. Roy Brown, R-Billings. Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings, told colleagues the measure is a tougher sell in more conservative areas because of the increased enforcement powers for the Department of Revenue. She called the measure a “combination of the good, the bad and the ugly.” “But I will be more concerned if we leave the session and we don’t have any homeowner property tax relief,” she said on the floor. “We need to pass something.” House Republicans have their own ideas for tax relief. Earlier in the day, a House panel controlled by Republicans rewrote a different bill and stuffed it with a plan that that provides about $200 per homeowner in annual property tax relief, in addition to a smaller income tax cut. Republicans complained the new authority given to the Department of Revenue in the Senate plan wrongly includes a provision to collect taxes from real estate investment trusts. They briefly held enough votes to strip the provision from the tax plan, only to see the support evaporate shortly later. Republicans blamed the switch on last minute lobbying from the governor’s office. “I feel pretty much betrayed at this point in time,” said Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter. Elliott pointed out the biggest real estate investment trust in the state is Plum Creek Timber, and said the company should be reporting taxes on its land sales. The extra collections on investment trusts are expected to bring in as much as $20 million. The new tax collection powers have been opposed by most business interests. And Republicans say the state already has enough laws on the books and enough employees to collect taxes.