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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 Republican candidate Greg Gianforte.
Interview by Tripp Baltz
Greg Gianforte lives in Bozeman with his wife of 27 years, Susan. Together they started up a software company called RightNow Technologies, which became Bozeman's largest commercial employer and which eventually sold to Oracle for $1.8 billion. Gianforte launched CodeMontana in order to provide public school scholarships for kids to learn computer science. They also started what is now the largest charitable giving organization in Montana. They have four adult children.
What are your priorities related to state and local tax, if elected?
It's been too long since Montana has seen any real significant tax relief. With storm clouds ahead for our state economy, it's time to take steps to get our economy moving again. That's why I've laid out my 4-0-6 tax plan. The 4 is eliminating the business equipment tax in 4 years; the zero is zero increase in state spending beyond inflation during the first biennium, the zero is also zero sales tax; and the 6 is making reforms to the tax code and lowering the top income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. These are simple, straightforward steps that will provide tax relief and jumpstart our economy.
What existing state and local tax measures or initiatives would you seek to support? Or curb?
It's time for Montana to eliminate its business equipment tax. The BET is a remnant of a bygone era when large mining companies controlled the state economy. Now, it's simply a wet blanket on investment. By eliminating the BET, Montana will become a much more attractive place for business investment.
What is the biggest hurdle you foresee to enacting your major tax-related initiatives?
Right now, due to the anti-business policies of the current administration, we are seeing our revenue decline and Montana has experienced two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. The next governor and Legislature face some tough choices, thanks to the failed administration of Steve Bullock.
What is the biggest challenge you see facing Montana from a tax and revenue perspective, in light of current and evolving market conditions?
Really the biggest issue for Montana is bad federal policies coming out of Washington, D.C. that are hampering our energy, timber, and agriculture industries. The Clean Power Plan threatens thousands of jobs, and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, much of it earmarked directly for schools. We can't manage our forests and get timber to our mills because of federal litigation laws that make it easy to sue and stop projects. For our agriculture industry (our number 1 industry), federal rules, such as Waters of the U.S., and abuses of the Endangered Species Act create uncertainty. This federal overreach is harming our economy and depressing tax revenue.
Do you believe Montana has the right balance right now in terms of overall taxes? Does anything need to be re-balanced?
Montana has two major issues with its income tax structure. First of all, 63 percent of Montana taxpayers pay the highest income tax rate. That is nearly two-thirds. Second, a study from the National Center for Children in Poverty found that, in 2014, Montana had the third highest tax burden for a family living at the poverty line. This is why we need to reform and simplify our income tax structure to lower the tax burden on all Montanans.
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