By Merlin Wolery
The 57th Legislature has around 30 days remaining to put its fix on the big issues of energy and education. Everyone here in Helena is acutely aware of the problems facing both.
How to fix the energy crisis is certainly the most difficult problem to solve. Will the solution be a tax on excess profits made by the companies owning the generation plants? Perhaps. Those opposing the excess profits tax say that the tax would discourage any company from building new generation facilities. New generation plants would be built elsewhere.
The price of energy under deregulation will be controlled by supply and demand. What we really need is more generation dedicated to use by Montana consumers. Building more generation will take several years.
The short-term fix may be SB 243 by Sen. Johnson or HB 474 by Rep. Paul Sliter. Sliter's bill would place a tax on the excess profits made by PPL (the generation company) and rebate that money back to Montana Power (the distribution company), so that they, in turn, could lower the rate to their consumers. The net result of this bill would be that the tax collected on the generation sold out of state would be rebated back to Montana customers. Anyone's best guess says that we will be paying at least double for our electrical needs.
We would be able to help education's problems if we could just get our hands on a lot of money. I believe that we will find more money for education than what was proposed in the governor's budget. The only way that we will find enough funds to make everyone happy is by raising more money through increasing taxes on cigarettes or something else. Raising taxes on anything is not at the top of anyone in Helena's list of things to do.
Last week the House passed both HB 121 and HB 31 back to House Appropriations. SB 500 sponsored by Sen. Glaser has not yet reached the House.
The House and Senate leadership and members of the Education Committees are working every day to come up with solutions to the problems that face K-12 and the University System.
On a local level, I applaud Dr. Kirk Miller's efforts and the steps that he is proposing for the Havre School District. It is efforts like Dr. Miller's that will help bring solutions to the problems facing education today.
I appreciate hearing from people in Havre and on the Hi-Line. I have seen messages from home change the outcome of House votes.
Please don't hesitate to let me know your views.