Here we go again. Governor Schweitzer has thrown his support behind HB-388 by Kendall Van Dyk (D) of Billings. The bill would place a $1 per barrel surtax on oil to fund education in Montana. Republicans, of course, are up in arms about this “tax increase” even though they have no coherent proposal of their own. They would prefer to see things stay as they are with local property taxes propping up our lagging education funding. Let’s look at a few facts:
- Oil producers in Montana have been getting a $100 million tax break since 1999.
- Average teacher salary in MT ranks 43rd in the nation. Good news is that it’s up from 50th last time.
- Exxon Mobil profit for 2008: $45 Billion. Largest ever for a US company.
- Amount raised by the bill: about $40 million per year.
- Oil price: currently about $44/barrel.
Do we see oil companies scurrying off to neighboring states for lower taxes? No, their taxes are higher. Do we see Montana teachers taking jobs in neighboring states for better salaries? You Betcha! Does Roy Brown have an answer? Sure, he wants to give new teachers a signing bonus of $10,000 over three years. Average debt of a graduating senior in MT: $18,000. Will that stop the bleeding? Doubt it. Republicans cry that oil production is down in the last two years in Montana. What they don’t tell you is that two years ago (2006) oil production was at an all time high, about 1.5 times the average for the last ten years. It had to go down. So okay, I’m still waiting for a reasonable Republican proposal to help education….