By Greg Gianforte

Do you earn a little more than $17,100 a year in taxable income? If so, count yourself among the near 236,000 Montanans who pay the highest state income tax rate of 6.9%. That’s right, as of 2014, more than 63% of Montanans pay taxes in the highest income tax bracket.

Last week, I announced a key agenda item after I’m elected Governor. Across the board tax relief and tax simplification for all Montanans. We’re calling it “406 Tax Relief.” It’s real relief, and it’s real simple. And, it starts with the basic understanding that this money is not the government’s money, it is your hard-earned money.

Unfortunately, our current governor thinks anyone making more than $17,100 a year in taxable income is too wealthy to get some tax relief. In fact, he vetoed three tax-reduction bills last year alone. And he did that while sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in overpaid taxes.

I’m a business guy, not a politician. I’ve never run for office before.  I’m running for Governor because I want my kids around the table on Sunday afternoons. I don’t want them to have to leave the state to find high wage job opportunities. And, as someone who built a global technology company here in Montana, I can tell you that Montanans will rise to the challenge every time.

We certainly face some economic challenges today. From layoffs in the Bakken in the East, to timber jobs in the West, and the loss of mining and other high wage jobs in between- the storm clouds are overhead.

Here’s how my plan for 406 Tax Relief works.

Let’s start with the number 4 in our 406 Tax Relief Plan: I’ll phase out and eliminate the Business Equipment Tax (BET) in 4 years. The BET is a wet blanket on business expansion in Montana. It hits farmers, manufacturers, construction, oil/gas and high tech hard. Basically, any business that invests to create jobs is currently incentivized to invest elsewhere. Recently, I spoke with a hotel owner in Billings. They have to count each piece of silverware, and then they have to pay Business Equipment Taxes on every fork and spoon they own every year. I think it’s time we stick a fork in the Business Equipment Tax!

My opponent says Montana is “open for business.” Tell that to Arch Coal, Mines Management of the Montanore Mine, and the 500 timber families who’ve been put out of work.

As for the number Zero in 406 Tax Relief, we’ll fight for zero increase in state spending after inflation and much needed infrastructure investments. State spending is up over 20% in just three years.  Zero also means zero sales tax.

Finally, for the number 6 in 406 Tax Relief:  We’re going to lower tax rates for Montanans across the board, with a max income tax rate of 6% down from 6.9% today.

Using fear-mongering rhetoric typical of Washington politicians, my opponent claims tax relief will lead to lower revenues.  But we cut Montana income taxes in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and what happened? Follow-on governors like the current administration were handed more revenue, not less. In fact, since 2003, we’ve nearly doubled state revenue. That’s right, we gave money back to Montanans through tax relief, and revenues climbed.

When I’m elected governor, we’ll deliver a balanced budget.  And we’ll deliver relief to Montanans while also holding on to a large enough surplus to maintain our bond rating. Let me be clear- any tax reduction would be broad and benefit all Montanans. Streamlining regulations, lowering taxes and slowing the growth of government spending will energize our economy and help create more high wage jobs so we can stop exporting our kids. I learned from over 30 years starting and growing businesses that sustainable jobs and opportunities are only created in the private sector, not by government programs.

We can no longer rely on the commodities boom that was handed to the current administration. Now is the time for real leadership, especially as we are beginning to see state revenues decline. It’s time to stimulate Montana’s economy and create new high wage job opportunities. Doing nothing is not an option.

My wife and I love the 406.  We’ve raised all four of our kids here in the 406.  We started and grew an incredibly successful company here in the 406. We want others to prosper here in the 406.  And that’s why we intend to deliver “406 Tax Relief.”

Greg Gianforte is the founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, Montana. He’s running for Governor of Montana.