Monday, October 29, 2012

Montana governor's race: Steve Bullock's 11th hour conversion on oil and gas taxes?

We were happy to learn that Democratic gubernatorial candidate AG Steve Bullock has had, at this late point in the campaign, an apparent conversion experience on oil and gas taxes.

In a recent debate, Bullock stated that he did not favor repealing the tax "holiday" by which new horizontal wells pay no taxes for the first 18 months of production. Keep in mind that Democrats opposed this holiday, which makes Montana oil and gas taxes regionally competitive, and that they have proposed legislation to repeal the holiday in pretty much every legislative session since it was first instituted in the 1990s.

Let's pose a hypothetical here: suppose by some miracle, Democrats retake control of both houses of Montana's legislature sometime in the coming 4 years. And suppose that Bullock is elected governor. Are we to believe that Bullock would veto legislation to raise oil production taxes if a Democratic legislature passed it?

Montana voters who want to promote oil and gas production in our state need to decide whether they trust Bullock's sudden enlightenment on this subject. Bullock, of course, doesn't really need to worry about such matters, since the Montana legislature would appear to be safely in Republican hands for at least the next couple of cycles. Oil and gas taxes aren't going up as long as the GOP is in control of the legislature, so he can safely say pretty much whatever he wants to about this.

We do, however, already know how Bullock votes on the state Land Board when it comes to oil, gas, and coal development issues, and he is definitely to the left (to the extent that left and right have meaning in this context) of his fellow Democrat, Gov. Schweitzer. If you thought Gov. Schweitzer dragged his feet on traditional energy development even while saying all of the right things, then you will likely be even more unhappy with Steve Bullock as governor. If you thought that Gov. Schweitzer got it just about right, well... you'll still be unhappy with a Gov. Bullock.

In that same debate, Rick Hill pointed out that he was working as an adviser for Gov. Racicot's office when the concept of the oil and gas tax holiday was being developed. Bullock snarked back that Hill was trying to "take credit for the oil and gas boom."

Not really, Mr. Attorney General. The point is that when voters are trying to decide whose promises to believe on this issue, they will look at past behavior and past associations. There is nothing in Rick Hill's record and associations that would indicate anything but that he will promote a safe and responsible development of traditional energy sources like oil, gas, and coal. There are disturbing indicators in the Bullock record and associations that point toward obstructionism and toward favoring the positions of radical environmentalists.

Voters will have to decide what they want.

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