Regional leaders give comments to state Chamber of Commerce

Tribune Business Editor

If dialogue at Tuesday’s meeting of the Montana Chamber of Commerce is any indication, the 2003 state legislators are in for some lively

Montana Chamber President Webb Brown and Montana Taxpayers Association President Mary Whittinghill stopped in Great Falls
Tuesday afternoon on their semiannual tour of about 17 Montana communities.

Seeking comment from regional leaders about topics ranging from tax reform and the state budget to worker’s compensation and the
business equipment tax rate, the pair visited with about 20 people at the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

Conversation centered on the governor’s proposed tax changes, including a tourist tax and local option tourist tax.

"I think using local option is bad tax policy. I favor a sales tax, but I think it needs to be done head-on," said Bill Johnstone, president of
D.A. Davidson & Co. in Great Falls. "What’s being proposed here, in my opinion, doesn’t make sense from a tax-policy perspective."

Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce President Rick Evans said a recent survey of members showed that the majority of business
members favor a general sales tax — not a local option tax.

"Maybe someone else needs to step up to the plate to say we need something more," Evans said.

Davidson Cos. Chairman Ian Davidson agreed.

"The responsibility is with the Legislature to pass legislation for a sales tax," Davidson said. "Why are we so insistent that we have to
have a vote of the people? Why doesn’t the Legislature have enough courage to pass a sales tax? We’ve got this mentality that it won’t
work, but why not try?"

The lone legislator in attendance, Rep. Trudi Schmidt, D-Great Falls, told the group that she agrees a local option tax is not the solution.

"It’s pitting one community against another," Schmidt said.

Todd Kelley of PostNet, a mailing services business at the Marketplace shopping center, said he in concerned that enacting a tourist tax
would result in small, locally owned businesses shouldering the burden of extra paperwork.

"These are comments we need to hear — the real-life stories," Brown said. "We’ve got a looming (budget) crisis hanging over our heads,
and I think people realize we’re in dire straits."

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