Posted: Sep 5, 2012 1:19 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Updated: Sep 5, 2012 7:00 PM
HELENA- Some of the nation's largest corporations are protesting their property tax bills here in Montana. That has state lawmakers are talking about changing the tax code, but as MTN State Political Reporter Marnee Banks found out, this has some concerned.
We're talking about AT&T, Cenex, Bresnan, Conoco Phillips, Verizon and AllTel with the Montana Department of Revenue reports it's dealing with nearly $78 million worth of protested property taxes from these companies.
"My members are very concerned about what they are experiencing in Montana compared to other states. My members feel they are dealing with a very aggressive Department of Revenue," said Montana Taxpayers Association President Nancy Schlepp.
She added the companies have seen a dramatic increase in their property taxes over the past four years. Tax records show AT&T Mobility was billed $700,000 in property taxes in 2010, and just one year later their bill jumped to $4.5 million, because AT&T acquired the multi-million-dollar company ALLTel, which increased AT&T's assessed value.
Companies which operate across several Montana counties are taxed differently than say a business which has a single store front: the process is called centrally assessed. There are 130 companies that are centrally assessed and together, and they pay nearly $300 million in property taxes.
"Even though they are very large companies, they watch very closely the tax structure and what they are experiencing in states, and sometimes they are wondering should we do business in Montana? I think that's not healthy for our state or our economy," Schlepp said.
"These are companies that came to Montana under this tax code. They knew what the tax code was when they came here, and now they are making enough money that they've hired every lobbyist in Helena," Governor Brian Schweitzer commented.
He says during his administration the tax rate hasn't changed, but Schlepp says for her members which are centrally assessed, the Department of Revenue is changing the way it determines the value of the property. And since taxes are based on the value the end result is a larger tax bill.
"They were already paying their fair share before they started seeing these huge increases in the last four years and what they are paying now is more than their share," said Schlepp.
Department of Revenue Director Dan Bucks says his agency hasn't changed a thing. He says many of these companies have expanded their business and made investments in infrastructure, and when they do that, the value of the property inevitably changes.
Schweitzer says if the tax code is revised to give these big corporations a break, small businesses and Montana homeowners are left picking up the tab.
"Now they are trying to change the tax code in Montana forcing a $100 million tax increase on Montana businesses, 45,000 businesses in Montana, and 350,000 homeowners. This is not good for business in Montana, not good for homeowners in Montana."
Schlepp says there isn't a bill draft yet, but she foresees something coming down, adding that any proposed legislation would be drawn up with the goal of creating a more predictable tax environment.