Republican wants business tax credit for health insurance

Associated Press
August 23, 3004

HELENA (AP) -- A Republican lawmaker said Monday he wants to revive a proposal that would give business owners a tax credit for providing health insurance to their employees.

The plan would target businesses with 10 or fewer workers and would offer a credit equal to half the premiums paid by the employer, said Rep. Alan Olson, R-Roundup.

His legislation, being prepared for the 2005 Legislature, is nearly identical to a proposal offered four months ago by state Auditor and Insurance Commissioner John Morrison, a Democrat.

Olson said he is willing to work with Democrats on the idea and said it does not matter who gets credit.

"Small businesses are the backbone of Montana's economy," he said. "A health insurance tax credit will be the most effective — and cost-effective — way to get quality health care to the people who don't currently have it."

Olson's bill is one piece of a state Republican Party legislative agenda unveiled last week.

He estimated his proposal could result in more than 50,000 uninsured Montanans getting coverage.

However, he did not know how much it would cost or where money to cover the tax credit would be found.

"We're going to have come up with game plan to come up with funding," he said.

Olson said his bill will be based on an unsuccessful measure that Rep. Joe McKenney, R-Great Falls, sponsored in the 2003 Legislature. That bill would have extended the tax credit to poor Montanans, not just small business owners, and carried a $42 million annual cost once fully implemented.

Morrison's proposal has a price tag of $15 million a year. He identified a source of money, recommending the use of tobacco tax increases created through Initiative 149 that is on the November ballot.

He said Monday he welcomes GOP backing for a concept he has advocated since 2001. "The more support we get for this the better," he said. "It is not a partisan idea. It is an idea that both sides can support."

The more expensive Republican plan is not objectionable, Morrison added. "If they can figure out how to come up with $50 million in refundable tax credits, then I'm supportive of that."




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