Jan 21, 2013 9:03 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - Some lawmakers believe school districts in eastern Montana aren't getting their fair share of oil and gas money, so they are proposing a bill to change the way taxes are allocated.
The Montana Department of Revenue currently collects about $215 million a year in oil and gas taxes, with about half the money going to the state while the rest is sent back to the counties and school districts.
Many small towns in northeastern Montana have seen a jump in population and traffic because of the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota.
Representative David Halvorson (R-Sidney) is asking the House Education committee to increase the amount of oil and gas taxes that a school district can keep.
School districts can currently keep 130% of their budget and any extra cash above that is returned to the state. Halvorson would like to increase the maximum to 150%.
Bainville School District Superintendent Renee Rasmussen is supporting the legislation because she says the oil and gas development is putting a strain on her classrooms.
"Before the impacts of the Bakken were really being felt, our special ed department had about ten students in it. As of today it stands at about 22 with three more kids to test in the next few weeks," Rasmussen testified. "That is a tremendous impact cost wise."
Rasmussen says recruiting teachers is nearly impossible because the wages are low and the cost of housing is skyrocketing.
"They are not exactly easy to find. I'm sure you've heard stories about the kinds of wages that are being paid in the Bakken and the school's inability to cope," Rasmussen said.
The Montana Department of Revenue predicts that if this bill passes, the state's general fund will lose $1.4 million a year and instead that money will stay with the local school districts.