…the Montana Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in favor of out-of-state corporate tax cheats, namely Travelocity and Expedia, who are short-changing the state of Montana on taxes when they sell hotel rooms. No surprise here. The last time the Chamber took an action on taxes, it tried to get a tax break for big oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil, around the same time the CEO of Exxon was paying himself a $400 million retirement bonus.
As the IR explains in this editorial, and as Montana Revenue Director Dan Bucks describes here, every hotel owner collects and gives to Montana a seven percent tax when a room is sold, and the money the state collects goes toward promoting tourism. But Travelocity and other such websites are evidently keeping the dough for themselves, or at least they are engaged in some fishy bookkeeping. Bucks thinks these companies might owe the state millions of dollars.
The pathetic part about this decision by the Chamber to support a bunch of billion dollar out-of-state tax avoiders is that apparently the Montana hotel owners have come out against what these online giants are doing.
That’s right: One of the most important groups of local business owners in Montana has come out against the nefarious practices of a few multi-billion dollar out-of-state corporations, and yet the Montana Chamber of Commerce has sided with the latter group. That’s kinda hard to believe. At least when they come out in favor of tax breaks for Exxon, one could note that Exxon has a refinery here and is thus a member of the business community.
Why the Chamber would take the side of the big bad guy from another state, rather than the small good guys from Montana, is a mystery, although it probably has something to do with the fact that the national chamber, headquartered in Washington, is a lobby dominated by large corporations, and gives orders to Webb Brown and Jon Benion, the conservative Republicans who run the Montana chamber.
It would not be the first time that these guys went against the prevailing will of the Chamber’s constituents. Recall that the local businesspeople who make up the local chambers of commerce across Montana strongly supported Schweitzer in 2008, and yet the Chamber state leadership, with little input from the rank and file, quietly engineered an endorsement of Roy Brown. Similarly local chambers have supported mill levies to fund education and the statewide entity fought against increased funding for schools in the legislature.
The other wrinkle in the Travelocity dust-up is that Travelocity, Expedia and the others are evidently lobbying Congress for a bill that would preempt all state power to collect taxes from them. That law, if they could get it, would clearly be worth hundreds of millions to the companies. It would get the companies off the hook on all back taxes they owe states. But it would screw the rest of Americans.
When you cut a giant corporation a break on its taxes, someone else has to make up the difference.
It’s unclear what the Chamber’s position is on that federal law, but I could probably take a guess.