Points For Honesty? GOP Lawmaker Proposes Bill That Only Cuts Taxes For The Rich

State Sen. Art Wittich

Republicans have a fairly typical strategy for proposing tax cuts for the wealthy without making them look like tax cuts for the wealthy. George W. Bush’s tax cuts largely benefited the rich, but he proposed corresponding tax cuts for the middle class too, even if they were quite a bit smaller. Mitt Romney and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) called their tax cuts “across the board,” so that even if the middle class gets a smaller cut and the poor actually pay more, it at least sounds like everyone is getting the same benefit.

Other Republicans pitch total elimination of their states’ income taxes, hiding the fact that the corresponding sales tax increases will largely hit the poor and middle class.

Then there’s Montana State Sen. Art Wittich (R). Wittich introduced legislation this week that only cuts Montana’s top tax rate, and unlike his fellow Republicans, there is no corresponding middle class “tax cut” that hides his true intent:

Senate Bill 170, by Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, would reduce the tax levied on the highest income tax bracket from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent.

According to the fiscal note on the bill, the measure would reduce state tax revenues by an estimated $125 million in the next biennium and $170 million in the 2016-2017 biennium.

Wittich originally proposed offsetting the cost by raising the corporate income tax by one percentage point, but when he was criticized for violating a tenet of Republican tax orthodoxy, he said he was willing to scrap that provision and let economic growth make up for the revenue losses. Of course, that’s the same argument Bush made, and it didn’t work out so well.

Meanwhile, Montana’s tax code is already skewed toward the wealthy. The bottom 20 percent of Montanans pay 6.4 percent of their income in total taxes, while the wealthiest one percent pay only 4.7 percent. Montana also allows a deduction for federal taxes and gives a huge break for investment income, all of which disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

Wittich’s bill would make the tax code more regressive, while also leaving the state with a sizable loss in revenue. But while Wittich may not get a passing grade in economic policy, at least he earned an ‘A’ for honesty.