Inconvenient Facts in the Montana Budget Debate

Aaron Flint posted on March 02, 2011 09:42 :: 1417 Views

For those of you who may have read the article by Lee Newspaper’s Mike Dennison on the state budget, attempting to show facts….here are some facts you may want to read to get the whole story.

The Sidney Herald had this editorial on the Montana state budget and plans to transfer oil and gas money to the rest of the state.

Good news came last week when House Bill 136, the bill that would change the distribution process of oil and gas revenue for schools, was tabled in the House’s education committee. But don’t let this fool you that a different format for oil and gas revenue distribution is not still in the works in Helena.

The Herald then shared portions of a letter from Saco Schools Superintendent Gordon Hahn, who listed off a series of services that the state’s larger schools have, that the rural schools do not have. 

Each school district in northeast Montana can come up with its own “is it fair” points when looking at the oil and gas controversy. We in northeast Montana are the ones putting up with the big trucks, the damage to our roads, the cost of living rising and so much more ��“ is that fair? We’re willing to put up with all of this oil and gas exploration because we reap the benefit of the revenue for our schools and our communities. Is the western portion of Big Sky Country willing to explore the possibilities of oil and gas reserves in their area? As Hahn said, “Heaven forbid” they cut down a tree to do it!

That being said, I wonder how the people in Sidney or Saco felt when they read this line in Mike Dennison’s opinion column that surely must have mistakenly been placed on the news page, instead of the opinion page, of The Billings Gazette

Yes, funding programs at levels proposed by Schweitzer would create cost overruns the next two years, if you insist on using only ongoing tax revenue, and not transferring a few million bucks out of a few government piggy banks here and there on a one-time basis to balance the books.

Dennison added this earlier in his column:

As the House Appropriations Committee starts voting on the state budget Wednesday, we’ll likely hear, again, the Republicans’ mantra they say requires cutting Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s budget: Not enough tax revenue to pay for programs at current levels.

Yet is the situation as dire as Republicans like to portray? No, it’s not – and the difference between political math and reality could mean some pretty severe whacks at the budget tree for programs like education and human services.

Dennison may not have meant it this way- but anyone from the local governments (i.e. the town of Belt) who rely on the so-called “piggy bank” as Dennison describes it, or the schools in Saco and other parts of Eastern Montana whose oil and gas money is threatened, will surely be offended by the column clearly siding with government programs in Helena at the expense of local governments and schools across the state.

And a kicker just for the fun of it….Brian Wiliams and Dave Letterman mentioned Gov. Brian Schweitzer on The Late Show earlier this week, click below to watch that portion of the interview.

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