Monday, March 30, 2009

House OKs bill to blunt effects of reappraisals

HELENA – The House gave initial approval today to a bill seeking to prevent the recent statewide property-tax reappraisal from automatically raising many Montanans' taxes.

By a 75-25 vote, lawmakers approved House Bill 658, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jopek, D-Whitefish (pictured). The bill would follow a similar model used in past sessions by reducing tax rates and offering exemptions for residential and business properties.

Property reappraisal in Montana occurs every six years. Since 2002, property values in Montana have risen by an average 55 percent statewide.

Jopek's bill would blunt that increase by jacking up one of the major property-tax exemptions for residential property called the "homestead" exemption. The exemption would increase gradually from 35.9 percent to 42 percent by 2014.

Supporters called the bill a good starting point, adding that there are additional exemptions and tax credits for elderly homeowners on fixed incomes. They also said they expect the Senate to continue shaping the bill with amendments.

But opponents said the bill won’t help lower- and middle-class taxpayers because they will be subsidizing the tax exemptions for the rich.

“If you don’t live in Lake County, Flathead County or Madison County, this is a bad bill for you,” said Rep. Wayne Stahl, R-Saco.

Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to have property taxes based on a “circuit-breaker” system, which a person’s property taxes would be based on their income and ability to pay them.
-by CNS correspondent Molly Priddy

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