We spoke to State representative Bill Mercer from House District 46 in Billings on Thursday about a request by four Republican legislative leaders appealing for a special session of the legislature in order to return over $1 billion in overpaid taxes directly to Montanans.

Mercer explained the purpose of the proposed special legislative session.

“Montanans have overpaid what the state needs to run state government based upon what we budgeted and we have done so in a pretty spectacular way,” said Mercer. “For that reason, this group of legislators wants to see a special session of the legislature in order to rebate a significant portion of that surplus to the taxpayers right now, without waiting for the January 2023 legislative session to convene.”

Mercer laid out the numbers.

“We believe that we're looking at a surplus right now of somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $1.8 billion,” said Mercer. “That amount is in addition to what we call the ‘rainy day’ or ‘insurance funds’. We've got $850 million in those insurance accounts, in addition to the surplus and so, frankly, I fear that if we have a very large budget surplus going into January, it will be a shiny object and something that will be it'll be very difficult for us to hold the line on new government spending.”

Mercer said time is of the essence because state Democratic legislators have also laid out their own plans for the budget surplus.

“The Democrats have already said in an op-ed that they've written that they would like to spend $750 million on new government spending and $250 million in tax relief,” he said. “We also know that there are other members of the legislature in our party that have said they've got bill draft requests teed up for the 2023 session to do some new government spending as well.”

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Mercer explained the three-prong approach to returning the over $1 billion state surplus.

“You've got two completely different components,” he said. “You've got a real property tax relief component for residential property, people who have a primary residence in which they occupy for seven months or more, in addition to the individual income tax liability, and then the third prong is not a tax liability relief program. We would be paying off $100 million of existing state debt, which would substantially pay off all the general obligation debt of the state of Montana.”

Others signing the letter include Senator Greg Hertz of Polson, Representative Keith Regier of Kalispell, and Senator Dan Bartel of Lewistown.

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