For the legislative week ending January 30

Date: January 30, 2015

Governor Addresses Legislature
The cornerstone of this week’s legislative activity came Thursday evening when Gov. Steve Bullock gave his second State of the State address before a joint House of Representatives and Senate audience. 
Medicaid Expansion
The governor centered his speech on four major issues, which his administration is pushing as we enter the fifth week of the 64th Montana Legislature. He is proposing to expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 Montanans by accepting some $700 million in federal funding over the next two years. 
Republicans see this expansion as an expansion of Obamacare and a possibility of a very expensive burden on Montana taxpayers, if the federal government doesn’t or cannot live up to its promises for the federal funding. 
Infrastructure
A second proposal of the governor’s is a $400 million infrastructure program for rebuilding and maintaining Montana’s schools, sewer and water systems, buildings, and helping eastern Montana local governments to meet needs created by the oil and gas boom in the Bakken fields. 
The money for this single bill would come from a combination of cash and bonding. This proposal was short-lived, however, as Republicans split it into at least seven separate bills, which would eliminate most of the governor’s proposed use of bonding to finance the project.
Education
A third proposal the governor championed in his message was a state-funded $37 million program to finance locally controlled, pre-kindergarten schools for four-year-old kids.

Apprentice Tax Credit
And finally, he pointed to a proposal that would give a $1,000 per-year tax credit for businesses that hire workers in an apprenticeship program. This bill is being sponsored by Republican Rep. Christy Clark of Havre. It is House Bill 277 and will have its first hearing on February 11 in the House Taxation Committee. NFIB/Montana is supporting this bill. 

Legislative Activity
Other activity this week was on four income tax bills:
  • House Majority Leader Keith Regier (R) of Kalispell introduced House Bill 166, which would permanently cut state income taxes by trimming the tax rates for each bracket of taxable income by one-tenth of one percent. For example, it would reduce the top bracket of 6.9 percent on taxable incomes exceeding $13,900 to 6.8 percent. If enacted, the bill would cut taxes for Montanans by $20 million a year. 
  • Rep. Art Wittich (R) of Bozeman introduced HB 169, a one-time tax reduction. It would save taxpayers $50 million in tax years 2015 and 2016. Both Regier’s and Wittich’s bills passed were passed by the House Taxation Committee. On second reading before the full House, HB 166 passed 61-39, and HB 169 passed 50-41. Both bills now go to the House Appropriations Committee for a second look, on February 3.
  • Two Senate tax bills were also introduced and heard in the Senate Taxation Committee on January 29. Senate Bill 200 by Sen. Duane Ankney (R) of Colstrip is a straight, permanent income-tax cut of $70 million to $75 million a year. It would cut the rate for each of Montana’s six-income brackets. 
  • Senate Bill 171 by Sen. Bruce Tutvedt (R) of Kalispell doesn’t lower overall taxes much in the long haul. Its major theme is to simplify the tax system by reducing the number of brackets from six to two, cutting rates for those brackets, and eliminating many tax deductions and credits current on the books. The taxable income would be the same as the federal rates, and it reportedly would give a taxpayers a short, two page return to file, rather than the current four-page return. Both bills await committee action. NFIB/Montana will lobby for tax cuts.
Business Equipment Tax
 
A vital bill for NFIB/Montana was heard January 25 in House Taxation Committee. It is House Bill 213 by Rep. Greg Hertz (R) of Polson. His proposal would increase the threshold of the business equipment tax from the current $100,000 to $500,000. Currently, any equipment up to $100,000 is not taxed at all. This would move the threshold to $500,000. NFIB/Montana is strongly lobbying for this bill. It awaits committee action.
Governor’s Demand
If any of the above tax bills makes it through both houses of the Legislature, they might run into a different reception in the governor’s office, which is demanding that the Legislature leave in 90 days with a $300,000 million ending-fund balance for the next two years.

Gas Tax Increase
Another interesting bill would raise the state gas tax by five cents, from 27 cents per gallon to  32 cents per gallon, for maintenance of local roads and local public transportation. House Bill 275 was heard in the House Transportation Committee, with no action being taken. It is sponsored by Rep. Nancy Wilson (D) of Missoula.
Pay Check Fairness
And, finally, on January 30 a bill was heard on pay-check fairness. Senate Bill 158 by Sen. Diane Sands (D) of Missoula would prohibit employers from requiring their employees not to discuss salary or benefits with other employees. It does not require employers to post or publish salaries and benefits of their employees. It merely does not allowing them to discuss the issue with fellow employees.
Upcoming Hearings
The only significant bills being heard next week of interest to NFIB/Montana will be House Joint Resolution 4 by Rep. Matthew Monforton (R) of Bozeman, and Senate Joint Resolution 7 by Sen. Roger Webb (R) of Billings. 
Both bills request the U.S. Congress to call a constitutional convention of the states through enforcement of Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The difference between the bills is that SJ 7 allows the convention to be open to any and all constitutional amendments. HJ 4 restricts the convention call to only amending the constitution to require the federal government to balance its budget and keep spending within estimated revenues each year. Twenty-four states have already passed such a resolution. The constitution requires that 34 states pass such a resolution before the Congress is required to call a convention. NFIB/Montana will be vigorously supporting HJ 4.

Getting Involved
Getting involved in the 2015 Legislature is easy. The best way to have your voice heard quickly is to phone 406-444-4800. Operators are on hand in the Capitol Building to take messages up to five legislators for each call, and delivery is within a half an hour. For those wanting more information on locating legislators, getting an e-mail address, looking to view committee meetings and floor sessions on television or over computers, and just to review all hearings and reading of the actual bills, they can go to www.leg.mt.gov and access everything electronically.
      
Past Reports

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