Taking Care Of Montana's Cash Cow

Guest Opinion


April 25, 2018 | View PDF

Joel Krautter

Budget problems, budget cuts and lower than expected revenue. Such has been the news from Helena this past year.

The budget cuts even hit Sidney. The Office of Public Assistance closed, ending three jobs and Richland Opportunities Inc. suffered a 3% cut for state reimbursement, which will result in a loss of more than $60,000 for their care of developmentally disabled people. Our State Health and Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which counsels hundreds of seniors annually regarding choosing the right Medicare Part D plan is also seeing funding threatened.

How did these budget problems happen? We were told about the strong fiscal health of Montana and low unemployment rates, record growth in Bozeman, a growing high-tech industry and another record breaking year for tourism.

Even with these positive economic indicators, Montana's budget experienced problems because our key economic drivers of agriculture and energy are struggling.

For instance, Montana has one oil and gas rig, while North Dakota has 53 and Wyoming has 30. Montana lags because of failed policy to encourage natural resource development.

The State of Montana loves the Richland County cash cow that keeps pumping revenue from oil and gas to Helena. In 2014, Richland County sent $50,547,460 in oil and gas revenue to Helena. In 2016, with oil down, this figure was still $18,723,405. Interestingly, the oil and gas revenue sent to Helena in 2014 by Richland County was more than the revenue sent by any other county in Montana, not including income taxes, even when other counties include property and vehicle taxes.

Montana lawmakers want the cash cow to keep pumping. We must bring lawmakers around to support legislation in 2019 that will promote more natural resource development. They also need to pay attention to the infrastructure needs of our area that have been overlooked now for multiple sessions. The status quo is unacceptable.

Look at how North Dakota has supported their impacted communities like Williston and Watford City where much of their state's wealth has been produced. Then look at the unfair treatment that local energy producing communities are getting in Montana. In my opinion, more oil and gas revenue produced in Richland County needs to stay in the area from which it is created to offset these impacts.

No one expects our communities will get a dollar for dollar return on the revenue they send to Helena, but it's not unrealistic for the people of Richland County to expect that we would get state financial help for our infrastructure expenses. We should be compensated for the wear and tear on roads, water systems, and strains on our county and towns due to this oil and gas development.

The current budget problems present an opportunity to talk about how Montana can promote more oil and gas development while also taking care of impacted areas. It may be a challenge, but I believe our Representative has to try. I will give this crucial problem all I have and I will be focused on delivering results for Richland County in Helena.

Joel Krautter is a Republican candidate for Representative of MT House District 35.


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