Gov. Brian Schweitzer is proposing to increase funding for all Montana school districts by a total of $38 million a year by redirecting oil and gas tax revenues that now only benefit schools in a few counties where the minerals are produced.
His budget office provided information showing that in fiscal year 2010, those school districts in oil and gas producing areas spent only a total of $11.8 million of the $33.6 million in total state oil and gas tax collections they received.
The Baker K-12 schools in Fallon County, for example, received $5.9 million in oil and gas revenue, but budgeted only $300,000 of it, state Budget Director David Ewer said.
Schweitzer said Montana legislators often cite Wyoming as an example to emulate. Four Wyoming counties with oil, gas and coal production provide all the revenue for all of that state’s K-12 schools, he said.
In Montana, “just a few counties have built such large accounts of (oil and gas) money they can’t spend it and they have declining numbers of students,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer called for sharing this mineral tax wealth with all school districts through what he calls a new “Teach Montana” state special revenue fund.
It requires approval by the 2011 Legislature.
But Willie Duffield, lobbyist for the Oil, Gas and Coal Counties, called Schweitzer’s plan “a bad idea.”
“The state’s already getting over 50 percent of the oil and gas revenue and distributes it around the state,” Duffield said. “So there’s no need for any more.”
If the state wants to distribute this additional oil and gas money to schools around the state, Duffield said, it needs to authorize drilling for oil and gas in more places.
“There’s oil and gas all under the state,” Duffield said.
Bob Vogel, director of government relations for the Montana School Boards Association, said the group had an inkling of Schweitzer’s proposal but is anxious to hear more details.
“Certainly our oil and gas (school) districts are going to have some concern,” Vogel said. “At least at this point, I don’t know enough about it to comment.”