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An effort to raise the the number of votes the Legislature needs to pass a new tax or increase an existing one cleared the House on Monday.

The bill is brought by Rep. Forrest Mandeville, a Republican from Columbus, who told the House last week creating or increasing taxes should require an increased level of scrutiny.

"There should be a high threshold when deciding whether or not to burden our constituents with new or higher taxes," Mandeville said.

House Bill 148 passed the House 53-46.

Opponents of the bill said it would tie the Legislature's hands at times when it would need to be nimble to respond to revenue problems, leading to cuts in critical services during tight fiscal times.

Zach Brown, a Democrat from Bozeman, said the bill could hinder the Legislature's ability to pass a balanced budget.

"What this bill actually does is strangle our authority as a Legislature to govern. We tie our hands," Brown said.

Mandeville countered that new or increased taxes can still be passed, just at a higher vote count.

"Nothing in this bill says you cannot increase taxes or fees," Mandeville said. "It just changes the threshold to make sure there is an appropriate amount of investigation before the Legislature makes that decision."

Other opponents cited states that have passed similar legislation and seen drastic cuts to the K-12 education system, and their credit ratings drop. A 2015 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 15 states require some sort of supermajority, anywhere from three-fifths, two-thirds or three-quarters, to increase or pass new taxes.

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Bob Storey, with the Montana Taxpayers Association, spoke in support of the bill, saying fees and taxes have risen too much in recent years.

"We think Montana citizens are getting kind of tired of tax rates as they are now," Storey said, citing recent increases in the cost of registering vehicles and hunting licenses. "It should be a serious and extraordinary matter to raise taxes.

Rep. Kim Abbott, a Democrat from Helena, called the bill "really bad tax policy."

"It makes it so hard for us to act in times of fiscal trouble where we may need to be nimble, we may need to increase taxes to cover basic necessities," Abbott said. "This just strikes me as really irresponsible tax policy."

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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State Bureau reporter for The Independent Record.

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