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Remember timber

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Timber is at the top of the natural resource world for Northwest Montana’s lifestyle and economic health. I learned that many decades ago. 

Late in the day, Dad would unload his crosscut saw from the work panel. I got to carry his lunch bucket to the house. My younger sister and I shared the half sandwich he had saved.

Other tree fellers brought their long-toothed crosscuts for Dad to file on his chest high sawhorse built only for filing. Mom kept track of those extra dollars. Us kids knew where the family income came from. Much later when managing sawmills and plywood production, I learned more economics. Eventually I realized how many families lived from logs and lumber; also schools, roads, government services and merchants benefit greatly.

So I jumped at the chance to straighten out a snafu in 2021 budget planning that would have amounted to tripling timber production taxes. Taxes could have driven some owners out of timber production. In turn, that could have killed efforts to get another mill back into Lincoln County. 

I worked closely with Chair Becky Beard and an interim committee to get a fair formula in place to provide predictability to timber and logging. Scott Mendenhall, Montana Revenue Department deputy director, called this process a model to follow in problem resolution. 

As a result, I recently introduced Senate Bill 3 to Tax Committee. SB 3 moved out of Taxcom by a unanimous vote, and it will move to the Senate floor the week of July 16. Make no mistake, this is big legislation.

The old process lost institutional knowledge, and more importantly, the understanding and trust between taxpayer and tax collector. Returning to a biannual cycle will prevent sudden huge increases. Creating a fair tax rate ensures that the businesses in this industry can continue to thrive and provide jobs and taxes to many communities.

Timber production tax is spread over a 70-year harvest cycle. Many of the valleys and mountainsides, where my Dad pulled a crosscut saw, have undergone several ownership changes. Government taxes must not drive timber production out of business.

 SB 3 is a great bill that has received bipartisan support and is a clear win-win for Montanans. 

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