By Ron VandenBoom
Chris Gallus, director of Government Relations and Legal Counsel for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, told those attending the Montana Business Agenda meeting Tuesday that he would give the 1999 Montana Legislature an A-plus for their efforts.
Gallus explained that while the Montana Chamber didnt get everything it would have liked, it did make significant headway on pieces of legislation the chamber has worked on for years.
First was SB 200, the business equipment tax reduction bill.
Gallus described the bill as one that could eventually eliminate the business equipment tax completely through a series of gradually decreasing percentages.
The tax is also totally eliminated for businesses that own less than $5,000 in equipment.
The reduction will also be tied to wage triggers that Gallus said he believes will mean Montana wages will have to see real increases if the tax is to be abolished completely.
The only drawback Gallus said he sees is a reduction in the tax dollars coming into communities from business equipment taxes.
Gallus said some communities may find they need to increase mills to make their own budgets. But he added that this was unique to each community and many may not find a need to replace lost funds.
Gallus also suggested that less of a tax burden on business means more jobs, greater competition, and more revenue sources.
Another bill for which the Montana Chamber claimed success was SB 111 abolishing the intangible tax.
According to Gallus the time had come to abolish the intangible tax primarily because the state had no satisfactory formula for collecting it.
He described the tax as a tax on anything that is not property that is still of value to you. Gallus used clientele lists and water rights as examples of the tax.
The problem he explained was that the government did not actually know what intangible property was or how much of a tax should be charged for it.
State auditors continued to cause state books to show deficits because the state never collected any money from the tax.
The state was being backed into a corner to either abolish the tax or start collecting it, Gallus said. Rather then create a nightmare of confusion they decided to just abolish it.
Another success for the Chamber was SB 271, the employer reference bill.
Gallus described this bill as passed, but only partly successful.
Its purpose was to protect employers who give employee references from civil suits by former employees who feel they were slandered.
The bill that passed, Gallus said, is not an immunity bill and may not give full comfort to employers.
Were not all the way there yet, Gallus said.
The law does offer some protection for those employers who give truthful and not purposely or negligently harmful statements about an employees job performance, Gallus said.
Employers can still not give out information about non-job related performance, medical conditions, or criminal records, without the fear of being sued.
Some lawyers in Helena, Gallus said, are advising their clients not to use the bill or take it for granted they are protected.
SB 271 also amends the part of the law that states an employee could demand a letter stating the reason for dismissal.
The Chamber disagreed with the portion of the law that stuck the employer with just one statement. The new law allows the employer to expand on reasons for employee dismissals after the statement is written and advises the employer the statements made could be used in litigation against them.