Billings Republican Representative Sherry Essman is proposing a “fee” to be collected by city and county governments on a variety of non-profit organizations, including churches. Essman’s bill, HB 391, was heard in the House Taxation Committee on February 8th. Sixteen opponents testified against the bill. There were no supporters.
If enacted into law, the bill would provide that tax-exempt non-profits, ranging from educational institutions to health care providers to churches, would be required to pay a fee to local governments. The fee would be based on square footage of their building, which is exempt from property tax because of its non-profit status. The revenue would be spent on public safety and road maintenance.
During the hearing, Republican Representative Scot Kerns of Great Falls questioned the bill, saying that it was inconsistent with “local control.” It seems Kerns and other Republicans pick and choose what kind of local control they care about when it comes to other bills. (WTF406 has already written a story on Kerns’ connections to religious institutions https://wtf406.com/2022/10/separation-of-church-and-state-not-for-kerns/) A thorough analysis of the impact of the bill (called a fiscal note) has been requested but was not yet available.
This bill won’t go very far. It faces opposition from some big players in politics, like non-profit hospitals (Benefis and Great Falls Clinic) and churches. Still, it shines a light on how much tax exempt property affects local government.