The end of the 2017 Montana State Legislative Session has left the state with a budget of $10.3 billion for the biennium – 2018-19, with $200 million in reserve.
Taxes and fees, which citizens will face from now on, as a result of new legislation, include an increased tax on fuel to help provide matching funds for federal transportation dollars. The 4.5 cents increased tax on a gallon of gasoline will increase over five years to 6 cents. The tax increase on diesel will be 1.5 cents, which will increase to 3 cents over five years.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce cheered the success of HB 473, and their partnership with the Montana Infrastructure Coalition (MIC), which advanced the legislation “to achieve significant infrastructure investment” through the Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Act. A Chamber press release said, “This bill creates jobs, improves public safety, and provides a match for federal dollars. One of the greatest disappointments this session was the failure of a needed bonding package.”
Fees were also increased on motor vehicle registration and on vehicles valued at more than $150,000, also to fund transportation infrastructure.
In order to address the threat of the invasive species, fees were also raised on fishing licenses and hydroelectric dams. Evidence of the zebra mussel has been found in some of Montana’s waters.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Park has created a special bureau to deal with the mussel and hired Thomas Woolf, formerly Idaho Aquatic Program Manager to head the bureau.
While the state legislature passed legislation that provides about $173 million for water, wastewater, road and bridge projects, they could not come to agreement about other funding for building projects at state colleges and universities, and for a veterans’ home in Butte. Legislators disagreed about whether to pay for the projects from extensive state reserve funds or to borrow at historically low interest rates. Included in the unfunded proposals was $5 million to help fund a proposed science building at MSU- Billings.
Legislation was passed that creates a high-risk health insurance pool. To bring competition to the insurance market, the legislators approved allowing out-of-state insurers sell policies in Montana and approved another bill aimed at increasing transparency in health care prices for patients. Another healthcare bill will give tax credits to small companies which offer high-deductible insurance plans to their employees.
The Chamber heralded successes that sent bills to the Governor that would reduce legal costs and taxes on Montanans. “We are gearing up for a stronger push to reduce the business equipment tax, improve the legal climate, and simplify the tax code in 2019. The Chamber defeated bills to increase taxes, workers’ compensation costs, and unnecessary regulation.
The Montana Chamber supported proposals to improve entrepreneurship, including a venture capital tax credit. They also supported the Governor’s tax abatement bill to encourage investment in new and expanding business.