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Telecom Companies Lobby for Lower Property Taxes Montana Homeowners Will Pay Instead

Large telecom and oil companies want to pay less property taxes and don’t mind Montana homeowners and small businesses paying the difference.

Telecommunications companies and the oil industry are lobbying the Montana Legislature to lower their assessed property taxes, shifting tax collections away from themselves and towards homeowners and small businesses.

Members of the Montana Legislature’s Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee are reviewing how the state values property — an important prerequisite to setting property taxes. The state legislature intends to collect a certain amount of tax revenue from owned property in the state. What percentage is paid by large national and multinational corporations, small businesses, and homeowners is open to debate, and industry lobbyists are fighting to lower the taxes of some of Montana’s largest businesses. Critics contend that will shift a greater proportion of property taxes on those who don’t have the resources to pay lobbyists — independent small businesses and residential property owners.

The Missoulian reports that the interim committee is currently divided on the proposition — Republicans favoring the views of large corporations and Democrats in favor of small businesses and homeowners.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer warns that Montanans are facing a corporate lobbying snowjob that will stick them with a higher tax bill.

“What they’re proposing is a great tax shift in favor of out-of-state and multinational corporations in Montana – a shift from those paying the taxes to small businesses and homeowners in Montana,” Schweitzer told the newspaper. “They’ve decided that they can hire lobbyists on both the Democratic and Republican side and pull the wool over legislators. This is the same cast of characters that brought us utility deregulation. What could go wrong?”

The Montana Budget and Policy Center agrees, suggesting a large shift in property taxes towards homeowners, small businesses, farmers and ranchers could prove shocking when tax bills start arriving in mailboxes.

Leading to change the property tax laws are cable television, telecommunications companies, and oil refineries, with the assistance of the Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Taxpayers Association, which does not disclose its funding sources.

Prior to the introduction of the “tax reform” study, large telecom companies including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Cablevision routinely appealed their property tax bills to the tune of $61.3 million out of $108.2 million owed in property taxes assessed from 2005-2011.

State Revenue Director Dan Bucks defends the current valuation system, which he says has used the same practices since the 1930s. Bucks warns if the tax burdens are shifted away from the telecommunications and oil industries, the difference will have to be paid by homeowners and small businesses.

The newspaper reports if Republicans control the 2013 Legislature, telecom and oil industry supporters in the state legislature are confident they can pass a bill to change property tax assessments, and Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, (R-Kalispell) acknowledged there would be a noticeable tax shift.

“We’ve got to take the political hit of the tax shift,” Tutvedt said. “If you’re going to be fair, then you shouldn’t get hit.”

Rep. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula) warned the Republican-backed measure could deliver tax bills packing a major wallop on unsuspecting property owners.

“They could be pretty severe, depending on what it looks like,” he said.

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