Schools, the state of Montana, and local governments all benefit from revenue from coal, directly and indirectly. Besides income and property taxes, there’s also the severance tax on coal. Half of that tax revenue goes into the permanent Coal Severance Tax Trust. That money can’t be spent without approval from at least three-fourths of both the Montana House and Senate. The other 50% goes to the state’s general fund and a myriad of projects, including for the long-range building program, conservation districts, the state Library Commission, and the cultural trust.
State Senator Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, wants to initiate a conversation about what would be the future of Montana without those dollars because the demand for coal and coal-fired power plants is on the decline. His proposed Senate Joint Resolution 5 calls for an interim study regarding the phase out of coal and the economic impact to the state and its residents. The panel would be charged with reporting back recommendations to the 2019 Montana Legislative session.
In an earlier Capitol Connections, Phillips said one possible replacement revenue source is a tax on tourists. He’s also sponsoring Senate Bill 331, a local option sales tax that would also provide residential property tax relief and fund local infrastructure projects.
Phillips, a scientist, is probably best known in Montana and Wyoming for overseeing the restoration of the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park in 1994-1997. He currently serves as Executive Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, a non-profit formed by Ted Turner and is a member of the Turner Energy and Ecosystem Committee charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Phillips says currently Montana has no data on greenhouse gases. His Senate Bill 190 seeks to collect that data and establish a Greenhouse Gas Management Account.
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