HELENA — Senate Republicans advanced their plan to cut a generally-reviled business equipment tax — along with a companion measure to pay for it by getting rid of a slew of tax credits.
The business tax cut would reduce the rate on the first $2 million in business equipment from 3 percent to 2 percent. It would be reduced further if certain economic triggers are met, and estimates say it would ultimately cost the state about $23 million a year.
Republicans are making the business tax reduction a primary goal. Gov. Brian Schweitzer wanted a different plan that would have abolished it for all but the biggest companies.
The Senate also Friday advanced a plan to eliminate $14 million in tax credits. Gone would be such credits as those giving a break to individuals for making energy efficiency upgrades and to filmmakers shooting in Montana, which Republicans argue are useless.
Democrats argue measure would result would be a shift in tax burden onto other taxpayers so that the largest companies can get a business tax cut.
Both measures advanced Friday afternoon in the Senate on party-line votes.
Republicans argued that the mish-mash of tax credits they are abolishing do little to influence people or companies to hire employees or make energy efficiency decisions. They argued the money is better spent on an overall decrease for business.
"Big companies do hire people, and we do want to attract them to Montana," said Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, the Kalispell Republican carrying the business tax cut. "Those long-term cuts in tax policy do add jobs."
Democrats argued the governor's business tax cut was much better because it got rid of the tax for small businesses with less than $1 million in equipment, while keeping it in place for the biggest companies. Those small businesses will hardly notice the percentage reduction in the Republican plan, while the multinational corporations like those running oil refineries don't need the cut in the GOP plan, the Democrats argued.
Democrats also believe the reduction in business equipment tax will force local school districts to shift higher taxes on homeowners. And they argued the hit to state coffers will be felt.
"Those long-term costs are going to be paid for by someone. I worry the long term costs are going to be paid for by education,' said Sen. Ron Erickson, D-Missoula.
Republicans countered that issue is largely taken care of because their proposal reimburses local government s for most of their lost revenue caused by the rate cut.