The Billings Outpost

Think coal ideas through

I read with interest the Gazette’s March 28 article about the Port of Coos Bay Port Commission demanding citizens pay thousands of dollars for a public records request for a proposed coal export port. The plan for the port involves transporting coal in mile-long trains from the Northern Plains to Oregon for export overseas. While I believe that the port should be open with their plans, what really baffles me is the idea that our nation is making plans to export our finite resources.

According to the recent Billings coal export conference, coal companies plan to export 110 million tons of coal annually. If these plans proceed, we could be facing 40 additional trains per day traveling through Billings and every other Montana city and rail crossing along the route. We will lose time waiting for trains, while ambulances, fire engines, and police vehicles will be delayed responding to emergencies. We’ll also be impacted by coal dust, diesel fumes, noise, and safety concerns.

It is time we thought through this coal export idea and determine who it will benefit. Montanans whose towns will be divided by a wall of train traffic are certainly not going to be at the top of the list. If anything, we are going to be left paying for ways to mitigate the problems via personal health costs, and city, county and state taxes.

Lana Sangmeister



Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 20:32

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Bad mouthing

The morning news the day after Super Tuesday: “Republicans are looking for the best candidate to beat President Obama.”

I thought the election was to find the best person capable of running the country. I thought we were voting on the best person to discern domestic and foreign policy. Sense when did the election become, find a warm body to replace the guy in office? I would hope there would be some informed choice for whom to vote.

So far, all I have heard is bad mouthing of the opposition, by the opposition.

Lauris Byxbe

Pompeys Pillar


Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 20:31

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Charter schools are issue.

I was just wondering when the government started paying for private tuition for charter/private schools? In fact some parents who put their children in these school feel that they are owed something because a great  percentage of their property taxes are taken for education.

As a home schooling parent in the beginning of that movement I paid school taxes for year with nothing to0 gain. In fact in the early days our children were denied any services whatsoever. The only thing that costs an individual schools the state payments per student, which, of course, is never refunded to the home schooling parents.

One wonders where that money goes. Also, if public funds are diverted into these private and charter schools, why can’t  the less fortunate students get their tuition paid just like the students in those alternative schools? If, in fact, that is ever factual.

One also might why there are so many charter and private and Christian schools opening as well as the swelling number of home schoolers. Could it be the atmosphere of the government schools or the fact that some schools are teaching things that contradict what the parents are trying to teach their children?

Free schools? Seems that the free educational system costs taxpayers hundreds of billions nationwide every year. That seems not to be the definition of free. Maybe for those not paying property taxes it might be “free.”

I have had the opportunity to travel much of the world and these countries have tuition based systems so that all parents who have children in schools pay an equal share.

 In some nations, if the parents cannot pay than the child cannot go to school. That is not right either.  If a family is truly indigent then public money could be used to underwrite qualified students. But it may well be the time for parents in this country to begin paying tuition. I know this is not a popular idea but we need  to change something.

Perhaps the people are trying to send a message when the levies fail.

Keith Babcock



Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 20:30

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Hunting, fishing in danger

Over the last 20 years, the face of hunting and fishing in Montana has changed substantially. Ranches in Montana are no longer bought by Montanans but instead by large out-of-state interests; wolves have been introduced onto the landscape; legislation has been enacted requiring big game population objectives be set at artificially low numbers; Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been charged with management of an increasing number of non-game, non-huntable species without additional revenue sources to fund that charge; legislators with little to no knowledge of hunting and fishing issues are voting in new laws without understanding their impact on the Montana resident hunter and angler; and maybe most importantly, landowners and sportsmen and women no longer are the friends and allies that they once were.

What does the future hold for our hunting/fishing heritage in Montana? That will largely be determined by whom we elect to the Legislature and Governor’s Office. The Montana Sportsmen Alliance was spawned from the 2011 legislative session with the goal of preserving/enhancing our wildlife resources and protecting the Montana resident hunter/angler.

What can you do to help? Start by learning about the issues from reliable sources and getting actively involved in your local sportsmen organizations. The Montana Sportsmen Alliance website ( has links to the bills brought forth in the 2011 session; articles from newspapers; calendar of events being held; list of all the statewide legislative candidates, etc.

A major problem is finding reliable, accurate sources of information. Beware of groups and individuals that claim to represent the average hunter, when upon scrutiny, may not in fact represent the average Joe but instead have their own hidden agenda.  

Find out where your elected officials stand on hunting, fishing and access issues. Discuss your concerns with the candidates. Go to candidate forums and whenever possible have one on one discussions with them. Be sure that they understand your concerns and that you will hold them accountable for their actions in the legislature. When you find a candidate that shares your views and values on wildlife issues, support them and work for their election. At MSA, we believe hunting, fishing and access issues are nonpartisan and should be separated from each party’s ideology.

Talk to landowners to start rebuilding the relationships hunters/ anglers once had. Recognize the impact hunting season has on landowners with all the people stopping by and/or phoning them. Offer to help out in the off season and send thank you notes after the season. The landowners are not our enemies nor are we their enemies.

Make no mistake, this upcoming election will determine the face of hunting, fishing and access for Montana resident hunters/anglers for many years to come. Special interest groups and individuals are already preparing legislation that will be very detrimental to our children’s hunting and fishing heritage. The Montana resident hunting and fishing community is one of the largest voting blocs in the state and if we stand together we can create a positive environment for the future.

J.W. Westman

Park City


Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:15

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Voting for Moss

I want to say some things in favor of Lynda Moss and her run for the Public Service Commission. Brad Molnar is leaving, and he is leaving an expanse of blood and feathers, which is a scene far too familiar in modern politics where simple cooperation is denounced as treachery. The PSC is now a depleted and mistrusted institution that is so abused that it will need a great deal of expert help to refocus on its mandated goals.

Lynda Moss was trailed for some time by a crew of backers who wanted her to take a swing at the job and continue her service to our state. After eight years in the Senate she was termed out. In the Senate she served as the majority whip and on the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Lynda’s opponent was employed by a regulated utility company while Lynda is employed and represents the people of Montana.

One other thing I would like to mention, Lynda was the director of the Western Heritage Center and any person who is deeply conversant in our history will add generously to the job at hand. Just look at the great improvements that were made to the center under Lynda’s direction.

I believe a good deal of care should be taken in choosing a successor for this office. The oil boom is coming, finances will mount into the billions and some will be spent on influencing politicians – tell me that is not true. The citizens of our state need a strong person to present our case and I suggest Lynda. She is quite small, but strong in the saddle.

T.J. Starr



Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:14

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Higher taxes not needed

The drumbeat for higher taxes is again being manufactured in Montana. As usual, it starts with a policy paper issued by a liberal leaning think tank, gets taken up by various news outlets, and then becomes the topic de jour at various staged meetings.

This election season the call is for higher taxes on the oil and gas job creators justified by the “need to deal with local impacts that aren’t being met.” But an examination of the facts demonstrates that higher taxes are not needed. Instead, simply let the oil and gas producing regions keep more of the money they generate to manage economic growth.

It’s disingenuous to suggest that “impacts” in Eastern Montana can be solved by taking tax revenues generated there as happened during the last Legislature. It’s nothing more than a naked power grab to confiscate the wealth that is generated and redistribute it to regions and spending programs that are addicted to government largesse.

Here are the facts on oil and gas tax revenues and expenditures. In Fiscal Year 2011 total tax revenues from oil and gas production taxes were around $220 million. That number does not include corporate income taxes, income taxes paid by employees of the companies and their small business suppliers and vendors, business equipment taxes, income taxes paid by royalty owners, or money the state receives from leasing its own lands or money from leasing federal lands.

Of that $220 million in oil and gas production taxes, a total of $115 million (52.3 percent, the cream) came right off the top and went directly to a variety of state government accounts. Of the remaining $105 million, roughly $48 million went to county governments, $53 million went to school districts, a quarter million to community colleges, but less than $4 million was retained by local governments through natural resource accounts. And that last number is where the rub comes, as it is the local governments who need greater flexibility to address changes in population.

In 2007 the Legislature passed legislation to enable oil and gas producing regions to deal with growth without tax increases. House Bill 823, carried by Democratic Rep. Veronica Small-Eastman, passed the House 86-14 and the Senate 47-1. It took a relatively small share of the taxes generated by the oil and gas regions and simply left the money with the counties to spend on roads and bridges. This bill would have addressed one of the major rationales proffered by those favoring higher taxes today.

HB 798, carried by Republican Representative Carol Lambert, would have transferred $10 million a year from ongoing federal mineral leasing fees to an updated Coal, Oil, Gas and Energy Development Impact Board for grants to local governments, including cities and towns, so they could prepare for growth from “oil and gas development activity.” That bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 28-22 vote and the House by an astounding 93-5. Shortsightedly, both bills were vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who wanted grain in the state government bin, not community bins. So the region has suffered from the decision to remove nearly $50 million from their effort to deal with the growth they are facing.

We have a chance to get it right in 2013. Let’s leave the money in the region that has generated the greatest hope for our state economy, the very region where the work actually occurred, the very region that generated the taxes. We don’t need higher taxes on oil and gas job creators; we just need to allow the region that creates jobs and generates the revenue in the first place to put it to work in their communities.

Jeff Essmann



Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:13

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