State lawmakers are considering a proposal to ask voters to cap the Constitutionally protected Coal Tax Trust at one-billion dollars. Senate Bill 353 would divert some of coal severance tax money that goes into the trust into an account to fund infrastructure projects.
This bill and its companion, Senate Bill 354, are sponsored by Republican Senator Rick Ripley. He says the Constitution directs 50 percent of the coal severance tax goes into the coal tax trust. He would like to take 90 percent of that money and redirect it into a new Build Montana program to be used to pay for infrastructure programs. Existing programs like the Treasure State Endowment would continue to be funded, and the corpus of the trust would remain intact.
"We continue growing the coal trust," Ripley said. "We continue funding existing programs. We generate 750 new jobs by building vital infrastructure projects in communities throughout Montana. In advertising lingo: Simple bills, amazing results
Supporters include the Montana Contractors Association, architects and engineers, and other business organizations.
Opponents include the Bullock Administration and the group Citizens for the Coal Tax Trust Fund.
Hal Harper represents that group. He says this proposal , while it doesn’t bust the trust, reduces the amount of money that was set up in a Constitutionally protected trust to grow for future generations.
"The permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund is the golden goose that lays the golden eggs of interest money every year," Harper said, "and unless that goose is killed that’s what we need for infrastructure problems in this state."
Opponents add infrastructure projects are already funded through revenue generated from coal severance taxes. They also point out the Bullock administration has an infrastructure funding bill in House Bill 5 that’s awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives gave final approval today to another bill to use mineral taxes to fund infrastructure projects. That House Bill 402 is sponsored by House Speaker Austin Knudsen.