By Matt B. Walen
The recently completed 1999 Montana Legislative Session was helpful to the states many cattle producers but missed a golden opportunity for greater tax reform, according to a spokesman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
Jim Peterson, the executive vice president of the cattle group, told The Daily News recently that a number of bills passed by the Legislature will help Montana ranching families continue to operate
But a number of bills that would have altered the states tax structure were rejected by the states lawmakers, Peterson said. One bill, spearheaded by the stockgrowers and backed by a coalition of citizens and business groups, failed to receive consideration, he said.
We support the tax relief efforts, the Buffalo-area rancher said. But we need long-term solutions to the Montana tax structure.
The Legislature used several large, one-time inflow of revenue, including the sale of Montana Power Company assets and the tobacco settlement, to help finance tax relief for various Montanans and businesses throughout the state, Peterson said. The tax relief includes reductions in business equipment tax, livestock tax, local property taxes and vehicle taxes.
The average Montana ranch could save nearly $800 yearly on livestock taxes and a modest amount on business equipment and other taxes, Peterson said.
But with all of the tax reductions, local government agencies could be struggling to bring necessary services to the people they serve, Peterson said.
The state stockgrowers group will continue to strive for and promote more changes to the Montana tax policies, Peterson said.
Unless we can broaden our sources of tax revenue and find ways to tap tourists and other growth sectors, we believe Montana will continue to lack the secret ingredient for creating an economy strong enough to maintain agricultural landscapes and special ways of life, he said. This will serve the best long-term interests of all the states residents.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association will also continue to work on improving the industry through policy changes, Peterson said.
The stockgrowers group has a four-point plan to improving the beef market, including:
n Getting Congress to enforce mandatory price reporting by the major meat packers across the country;
n Country-of-origin labeling of beef products in grocery stores;
n Limiting the USDA grades of beef to only American beef products;
n Improving the trade atmosphere for the United States through the World Trade Organization.
These four goals can be achieved which would help the entire state due to agriculture still being the No. 1 industry in the Big Sky state, Peterson said.