Schweitzer Will Offer Lower Business Equipment Tax

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer committed Wednesday to seeking a decrease on the business equipment tax if re-elected, but maintains that most of his budget proposals will come after the election.

Schweitzer says full details on his plans will come only when he is required by law on Nov. 15 to submit an executive budget. Election Day is Nov. 4.

Schweitzer’s opponent, Republican Roy Brown, wants to repeal the business equipment tax altogether. Brown has also unveiled some specifics on a tax plan that includes an across-the-board property tax cut.

Schweitzer said in an interview Wednesday that it does not make sense to completely repeal the business equipment tax because millions of dollars would go to out-of-state corporations like PPL Montana and BNSF Railway that are unlikely to reinvest the money in the state. The governor said his plan would exempt most small businesses from the tax.

“My philosophy is simple. If you are going to give tax relief, give it to Montanans,” Schweitzer said.

And he lampooned across-the-board property tax cuts, saying the owner of a $9 million mansion would get $3,000 a year, while an average homeowner would get peanuts.

Brown has said he does not yet know how much his property tax cut would mean to the owner of an average home. But Brown said cutting the business equipment tax altogether makes sense because it would spur investment in the state and create job growth.

“Why should people in this state, even if they don’t make a profit, have to pay for a tax on equipment that they need to run their business?” Brown said.

Schweitzer said he is waiting to unveil budget details, in part, because of the economic turmoil around the nation.

“I think it is going to mean there will be a slowdown from what some of our projections have been,” he said of budget forecasts.

He reiterated that he prefers the rebate as a form of tax relief for homeowners, but said he is not making any commitments yet.

“I wouldn’t put a down payment on a new snowmobile quite yet,” he said. “You can probably anticipate that a Gov. Schweitzer is going to have the same philosophy that he has in the past.”

Analysts currently predict a $957.1 million budget surplus for the state budget over the next two years.

Two years ago, when the state was again flush with a big surplus, Schweitzer advocated $400-per-homeowner rebates, more education money, a freeze on college tuition and other ideas — well in advance of the November deadline for an executive budget.

Brown, his opponent, is suspicious of the motives.

“This year, where are all these proposals?” Brown said. “He doesn’t want to put any out there, because it is an election year that he is in.”