Local-option tax long overdue

Print Article

Just as there is a divide between big cities and small towns in national politics, so too there is a marked division between urban areas and rural counties in Montana ó and never is that division more marked than when the topic is local-option sales taxes.

Every two years, cities from across Montana send representatives to Helena to lobby the Legislature for the ability of city residents to impose a sales tax that would supplement property taxes as a means of paying for infrastructure and other needs.

And every two years, just as predictably, representatives and senators from small towns and sparely populated counties push back against the idea. Thatís because rural Montana residents often recreate in those bigger towns and cities, so they would be paying the tax while not getting back any of the revenue.

This week, the debate was renewed. Rep. Dave Fern, D-Whitefish, is the sponsor of House Bill 577, which would allow local governments to impose a sales tax of up to 4 percent on lodging, restaurants, bars and luxury items. Fernís involvement is welcome. As a resident of Whitefish, he is well aware of the success of the resort tax (a limited form of sales tax) in that community, so he makes a good ambassador for the concept.

Kalispellís city manager, Doug Russell, testified on Tuesday before the House Taxation Committee that the city could raise an estimated $6.5 million per year from a 2 percent tax. Thatís actually more than the city collected in property taxes last year. What a windfall for strapped municipalities.

The goal of sales-tax proponents is to see out-of-state visitors pay for part of the infrastructure they use in cities like Kalispell and Bozeman, and that makes sense. Moreover, local property taxes would be partly rebated back in cities with a local-option tax, so this is a form of tax relief as well.

The best argument against the sales tax is that it wonít apply to online sellers like Amazon, so there is an incentive for local shoppers to take their money elsewhere to avoid the tax. But letís face it, that only applies to the luxury items ó not to hotels, restaurants and bars. People arenít going to be ordering their meals and drinks online, and the folks who are paying for luxury items probably have enough spare change that they arenít going to be hindered by a 4 percent surcharge.

Itís a long shot that the Legislature will approve the bill, and even less likely that Gov. Steve Bullock would sign it after he won re-election partly by painting Greg Gianforte falsely as a sales-tax proponent.

Still, itís a good idea whose time surely must come sooner or later. If it doesnít work out this session, weíll be back two years from now making the same arguments.

Print Article

Read More Editorial

Kalispell embarks on new journey

March 26, 2017 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Itís a pivotal time for the heart of Kalispell. Anyone who attended the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday and got the latest update about plans to redevelop the cityís core area no d...

Comments

Read More

EDITORíS 2 CENTS: Community news keeps newspapers as relevant as ever

March 25, 2017 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Among the many fake news headlines making the rounds on the internet, one of the most popular is ďNewspapers are dead.Ē Letís put that to bed right away. According to the Editor & Publisher Ne...

Comments

Read More

Keep health protections for Libby

March 19, 2017 at 7:00 am | Daily Inter Lake Libby asbestos victims got some welcome news earlier this month when it became known the proposed American Health Care Act ó the Republicansí repeal-and-replace bill for the Affordable Care Act ó wil...

Comments

Read More

EDITORíS 2 CENTS: Trumpís war with CIA was preceded by Kennedyís

March 18, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Daily Inter Lake The New York Times, in a front-page story, said that the president ďwanted to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.Ē Whether that quote is accurate or not we donít kno...

Comments

Read More

X