Lawmakers mull oil and gas trust fund

Representative Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls)

Representative Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls)

A Great Falls Democrat is trying to convince his fellow House members to put the idea of creating an oil and natural gas trust fund before voters in 2014.

Representative Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls) says his bill follows the lead of a coal trust fund created by the legislature in the 1970s.

“What this does is make us fiscally responsible, fiduciarily prudent, and puts money ahead for us for the future,” Jacobson said. His bill, HB589, would put some of the taxes already collected by the state into a trust that could not be ‘busted’ without a vote of three-fourths of the members of each legislative chamber. The state would only be able to spend the interest collected on the trust after its establishment in 2016. Jacobson says it would probably take between 20 and 25 years before the state is taking out more money than is being put in.
House members gave preliminary approval to the measure last Thursday with a 53 to 47 vote.
Representative Greg Hertz (R-Polson)

Representative Greg Hertz (R-Polson)

Several Republicans spoke against the measure, including Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson). He believes Montana should not be in the business of putting taxpayer money away in a savings account. “We need these tax dollars to help our schools and reduce property taxes.”

Another Republican, Austin Knudsen, who also works as an oil and gas attorney, says oil companies are already taxed too high in the state.
“I don’t know of any other commodity,” Knudsen said, “we don’t tax fat cattle, we don’t tax wheat, we don’t tax alfalfa, we don’t tax any other product at the levels that we tax oil.”
Representative Margie MacDonald (D-Billings) argued oil should be taxed more because it’s a finite resource. She says other nearby states and Canadian provinces have created these type of trust funds.
“Resource-rich states understand that these are one-time resources and we harvest the benefits from them in our generation, but there are future generations of Montanans who deserve a legacy from these resources as well. This is just good common sense,” she said.
A number of Republicans also spoke in favor of the measure, calling it a fiscally conservative move that could lower taxes down the line.
Because the trust fund would need to be created through altering the Montana Constitution, it must go before the voters before it’s created. Rep. Jacobson’s bill will need a 2/3rds majority of both legislative chambers combined to send the measure to voters.

Bi-Partisan group looks to end Montana death penalty

Sen. Dave Wanzenried (D-Missoula) at podium with Rep. Doug Kary (R-Billings), Sen. Matthew Rosendale (R-Glendive), and Rep. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings) behind

Sen. Dave Wanzenried (D-Missoula) at podium with Rep. Doug Kary (R-Billings), Sen. Matthew Rosendale (R-Glendive), and Rep. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings) behind

A bi-partisan group of legislators believes they have “good prospects” of abolishing Montana’s death penalty. The group of two Democrats and two Republicans want to replace the death penalty with life in prison

Efforts to repeal the death penalty have cleared the State Senate the last two legislative sessions, but died in the House.

At a Monday press conference put on by the Montana Abolition Coalition, Representative Margie MacDonald (D-Billings) said 2013 may be different.

“This will allow us to focus our resources, our energy and quit spending millions of dollars trying to pursue capital punishment and instead focus those resources on our correctional system, on addressing the needs of our victims,” she said defending abolition.

Senator Matthew Rosendale (R-Glendive) said he is co-sponsoring the bill as a man of faith. He says the bill to abolish the death penalty is part of an effort to affirm the sanctity of life, and “It’s that respect for all life that brings us here together with folks from around the entire state to work to abolish the death penalty here in Montana.”

Supporters of the bill say the death penalty makes it possible to execute an innocent person.

Those in favor to the death penalty say it is an important deterrent and fair justice.

Montana currently has two inmates on death row.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.