HELENA – Republican Roy Brown, aiming to knock off incumbent Gov. Brian Schweitzer, said Wednesday that he will cut property taxes if elected and would have reduced overall rates by $300 million if he had been in control of the last state budget.
Brown, speaking about his budget priorities in an interview with The Associated Press, said such a tax cut will be a centerpiece of the message he sends to voters between now and Election Day.
The Republican, facing a popular incumbent, is also seeking to make gains with a controversy that erupted last week over comments Schweitzer made in a speech suggesting he had tampered with a 2006 election.
Since Brown launched his campaign against Schweitzer, and even before, the two have quarreled over tax policy. Brown is a longtime state lawmaker.
Brown said a reduction in the mills assessed by the state in property taxes would benefit everyone, improve the economy and ultimately result in an increase in overall state tax collections.
Brown said such a reduction in the statewide property tax may help an average homeowner by about $50 a year, although he is not yet sure of the exact amount. He said the biggest benefit of such a decrease is that it reduces tax bills year after year.
“Maybe it’s not a huge deal to get a $100 reduction on your property taxes but it helps offset the (local tax) increases,” Brown said.
Brown was not specific as to where he would find the money to pay for such a tax cut.
Democrats argue a statewide property tax has little benefit for the average homeowner, and is gobbled up by local property tax increases. They also point out such a plan usually gives giant corporations millions of dollars a year in relief.
Schweitzer successfully pushed for a $400 rebate per homeowner in 2007, and spent state money on such initiatives as a college tuition freeze. He says he is considering such programs again for next year.
To beat Schweitzer, Brown is also ramping up criticism of the governor’s July’s speech to trial lawyers, a speech that came to light last week.
Schweitzer has apologized for the speech, and said he was telling a joke when he talked about tribal police running off GOP operatives and implied that he delayed election results in Butte-Silver Bow County.
Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat, has denied a request from Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson to look into whether there was any truth in Schweitzer’s comments. The U.S. attorney’s office has so far not ruled out an inquiry.
Also Wednesday, Brown said at a news conference that Schweitzer himself should encourage an investigation of the comments he made during the speech to ascertain if any of the events are actually true. The governor’s campaign said Schweitzer would not be doing so.
“Undoubtedly, desperate politicians like Roy Brown want to politicize this non-issue for their own gain and are therefore crying foul,” said Schweitzer campaign spokesman Harper Lawson. “Those who realize that it was nothing more than a bad joke have moved on.”
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