McGrath Opinion Addresses Big Bill, Mill Levies
HELENA – In an opinion released Wednesday, Attorney General Mike McGrath clarified some questions related to the passage of the so-called Big Bill and its overhaul of the way local governments levy property taxes.
Great Falls City Attorney David Gliko requested the opinion, asking specifically about levying mills for airport purposes.
McGrath’s opinion said that in light of changes related to House Bill 124 – the “Big Bill” – local government’s authority to levy mills depends on the total amount of property tax assessed in the prior year, not on the number of mills levied for any particular purpose.
Passed by the 2001 Legislature, HB 124 eliminated specific numeric limits on the number of mills a local government might levy for a given purpose. Instead, HB 124 created a mill levy cap based on the previous year’s property tax assessments. With the elimination of the numeric limits and the creation of the cap, a local government may dedicate as much or as little of its annual mill levy as it chooses to any lawful government purpose. The only stipulation is that the total millage stay within the cap.
McGrath ruled that the number of mills the city can levy this year depends on the amount of tax assessed last year, not whether a tax was levied in prior years for a particular purpose, like airport uses.
The Big Bill also amended Montana law so that a local government may “carry forward” the authority to impose mills equal to the difference between the number of mills authorized and the number of mills actually imposed. McGrath’s opinion holds that this carry forward authority is not available this year, but may be applicable in future tax years.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.