A meeting in Havre with local legislators on their mid-session break turned to proposals on taxes, with one lawmaker telling a taxpayer his concerns have been heard.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, told Havreite Charlie Grant his messages to the House Taxation Committee have not gone unnoticed.
“We are working on it,” she said. “You haven’t been forgotten.”
Grant said during a meeting sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Bear Paw Development Corp. with local legislators, attended by Hansen and Sens. Greg Jergeson of Chinook and Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder, both Democrats, that every time someone picks up a paper they see notices of houses being seized for delinquent taxes.
“We’re all broke,” Grant said. “Nobody’s working. The taxes are too high.”
Now, he added, people are being sent certified letters telling them a tax lien will be put on their property if they fall behind in taxes.
“The whole thing is just insulting, degrading to those of us who have worked all of our lives to acquire private property … ,” he said. “If you don’t have justice in your society, you don’t have anything, and I don’t feel I am getting justice on my taxes.”
Hansen said she and the other members of the Taxation Committee are considering calling for a study to look at how different counties handle late or delinquent taxes, and to look at making changes in the future.
She said another issue Grant commented on — his desire to see school elections held at the same time as local, state and national elections — was proposed, and also probably will end up in an interim study.
“You have made me a very happy man, and there is justice,” Grant said.
But Jergeson said next that Grant might not be happy with the result — what Hansen is talking about is how tax collection and delinquencies are handled. The other proposals are talking about business equipment and other property taxes.
“The issue about your level of taxes. Charlie, is not being addressed properly by this Legislature, because the business equipment tax reduction is going to end up having to be paid for by somebody else,” Jergeson said.
Any lost revenue would have to be backfilled from the general fund, Jergeson said.
“Which means income taxpayers, people who work for wages and salaries and run small businesses and make profits and pay taxes are going to be the ones paying that tax relief on the business equipment property,” he said.
And, if state revenue drops, that will dry up and have to be made up from somewhere else, Jergeson added, saying he has seen it happen time and time again.
“And then the burden gets shifted to the other property tax payers locally, and that’s the owners of real property, homeowners, small businessmen in downtown and commercial property and the deeded land that farmers and ranchers operate on,” he said. “That’s who’s going to end up paying for it.”
The meeting also discussed a proposal to increase tax exemptions or deductions for military pension incomes. Hansen said that could make the state much more attractive to military retirees.
Hansen, after being asked by Val Murri about the status of her bill to simplify the state income tax, said it currently is under legal review. She said she expects it will be out on the floor and sent to a hearing in a week or 10 days.
Murri said he agrees — the tax form needs to be simplified. It was one-page long 20 years ago, and now could require six or seven pages, he said.
Jergeseon said great care needs to be used for that kind of simplification.
Now, two families with the same income might pay greatly different taxes, depending on their deductions and exemptions. Eliminating those deductions and exemptions, if the bill is going to create the same revenue for the state, will create winners and losers, he said.
“People living right next door to each other … one can be a winner and one can be a loser … ,” Jergeson said. “If you keep the whole thing revenue -neutral, you’re going to have that, some are better off and some are worse off. There’s kind of a rule of thumb that those who are better off are not very grateful and those who are worse off are not very happy.
“So it will be interesting to see how that works out,” he added. “I wish Kris well in her experience on that.”
Hansen said trying to avoid that is part of what is taking time to complete the draft of the bill.
“We are working hard to minimize those winners-and-losers scenarios,” she said.