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Bloomberg BNA recently posed a series of tax-centric questions to the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor in Montana. Below are the responses from Democrat incumbent candidate Steve Bullock.
Interview by Tripp Baltz
Steve Bullock was born in Missoula and raised in Helena. He attended public schools in Helena and graduated from Helena High School in 1984. He received his undergraduate degree from Claremont McKenna College and his law degree with honors from Columbia University Law School in New York. He was elected the 24th governor of Montana in 2013. He lives with his wife and three young children in Helena.
What are your priorities related to state and local taxes if re-elected?
Hard-working, middle-class families in Montana already pay their fair share in taxes, and it's my job to hold the line on taxes. I certainly don't support a sales tax—something my opponent called an “ideal solution” for our state. Like most Montanans, I couldn't disagree more. Montana has been recognized as the 3rd best place to be a taxpayer (Wallet Hub) and for having the 6th best business tax system (Tax Foundation). We have a fair tax system, and I am promoting policies that will keep it that way. Next year, I will be asking our Legislature to enact my Quality Jobs proposal, which provides tax incentives for businesses to locate in Montana and for existing businesses to expand their operations. Under the plan, for the first five years of operation, 75 percent of a new or expanding business' business equipment tax obligation will be waived. The savings achieved through this proposal will allow businesses to create more jobs and pay higher wages. Second, the state will provide businesses a $1,000 tax credit for every position hired where the worker is offered on-the-job training, boosting Montana workers' earning potential over the lifetime of their career. Third, the state will provide businesses a $2,000 tax credit for every veteran hired where the worker is offered on-the-job training to learn the necessary skills to do the job.
What existing state and local tax measures would you seek to support? Or curb?
I support tax policies that build upon Montana's reputation as having one of the fairest tax systems in the country.
What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to enacting your major tax-related initiatives?
I have a proven track record of working with Democrats and Republicans to pass tax policies that benefit Montana. For instance, working with Republicans, I cut business equipment taxes for every business in Montana and eliminated the tax for over 2/3 of our businesses. I also worked with Republicans to pass a law that helps Montana businesses address air and water pollution by giving them a tax break on what they have to pay for pollution control equipment. I look forward to working with the Legislature to pass my quality jobs plan.
What is the biggest challenge you see facing Montana from a tax and revenue perspective, in light of current and evolving market conditions?
Although Montana's economy has diversified in many ways, our natural resource industries continue to be an important part of our revenue stream. OPEC production, Chinese and Asian demand for coal fluctuations, and federal government tax policy will bring a level of uncertainty which we must hedge against by maintaining strong rainy day fund balances. That's why I insisted on balancing Montana's budget with a strong rainy day fund in order to weather the factors out of our control—such as worldwide commodity prices that affect revenue. My opponent has advocated for getting rid of our rainy day fund in order to give another tax break to millionaires like himself.
Do you believe Montana has the right balance right now in terms of overall taxes? Does anything need to be rebalanced?
Yes, I believe that Montana's tax system is balanced, and my responsibility as governor is to hold the line on taxes. Montana's economy continues to diversify, giving strength to our revenue streams. While Montana's neighbors have faced millions of dollars in reductions over the past two years, our economy has weathered the downturn in global markets and we have money set aside in our rainy day fund.
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