Each December at its monthly meeting, the Board of Land Commissioners has a ceremony when the Superintendent of Public Instruction is presented with checks demonstrating how much revenue has been generated from activities on Montana’s state trust lands that benefit our school children. This year there was one check for $53.5 million that will provide the foundation for education statewide. Another check for just under $2 million is the one I would like to mention.
The Timber Technology Account was established by the Legislature a few years ago because it recognized the disconnect that exists between the use and production of commodities. This account draws a direct connection between the harvest of trees, consumption of wood products and revenue for education. It is money received by each school district over and above any allocation from the state’s general fund. This has to be welcome news in this time of economic uncertainty.
In a recent poll conducted by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montanans are strong supporters of business in our aptly named Treasure State. The survey indicates 75 percent of Montana voters want the state to encourage more timber, mining, oil and gas development with 14 percent in opposition. A firm 63 percent of those voters believe our environment is currently well protected with existing laws. Additionally, a strong 76 percent favor new development of coal-powered electrical generation to provide more long-term, low-cost energy for the state.
These numbers are borne out by conversations with folks all across Montana. Over the past few weeks five industry trade associations conducted events across Montana. Coal mining, logging, milling, trucking and construction were represented at different locations from Kalispell to Miles City, and many points in between. The audience was elected legislators who were invited to meet with us and hear our pitches about our particular role in Montana’s economy and why it is so important.
The reason these five entities travel the state together every other year is simple: Each of us depends upon the others for our well-being. Mills cannot operate without logging and the loggers need a place to take the trees. Mills and loggers cannot operate without trucks to haul the products, and the construction industry must have what is produced to supply its building needs. All citizens and businesses need energy for heat and lights and the bulk of that energy is produced by coal. These are integrated businesses relying on each other and others in their own industries.
The chamber poll and our conversations do give a clear indication that more and more Montanans are realizing the importance of the basic industries as the foundation of our economy. The budgets of the past several years have been clearly natural resources driven even with the slumping of the federal economy. There is currently a downturn of all economies, and Montana is no longer an exception to this trend. Those in the know are predicting dire economic situations in the coming months and all of us will need to determine how to weather the financial storm. I firmly believe we will survive by cooperatively working together for the good of all citizens.
Even in the market downturn the Board of Land Commissioners has over the past year continued its approval of timber sales on trust lands. We in the timber community are extremely grateful that the Board saw the wisdom of staying the course with attaining the sustained yield of harvest on those trusts lands thus providing revenue, jobs, commodities and eventually nearly $2 million of technology equipment for Montana’s school children.
Our thanks go to Secretary of State Brad Johnson, Auditor John Morrison, and Attorney General Mike McGrath, all of whom are leaving the Land Board for other endeavors. Governor Brian Schweitzer and Superintendent Linda McCullough will remain on the Land Board for the upcoming four years. We thank them too for their past support and we look forward to working with them in the future along with three newly elected Land Board members.
Ellen Simpson is executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association
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