House Bill 114 will crush the dreams of Montana public schools

First, I hate politics. I’m a former sports reporter/editor turned radio play-by-play hack, thus I prefer the certainty of a contest played out mano-a-mano instead of having politicians only voting for ones party be the end result of a conflict.  House Bill 114, introduced by Mike Miller (R) of Helmville, is exactly what I despise about politics.

HB114 was drafted for one sole purpose: to stick it to Anaconda. In short, the Bullock administration and his Montana Department of Revenue feel School District 10 is spending TIFID money captured from the Dave Gates Generation Station (NorthWestern Energy) in Mill Creek illegally.

If it’s illegal, then by all means put a stop to it. However, it appears it may not be illegal after all – even when terms like “Double Taxation” get thrown around as a scare tactic to Deer Lodge County residents. If what SD10 was doing with their cut of TIFID funds was illegal, why is the DOR so adamant on changing the laws set forth in HB114? I’ll tell you why, because they hate the way Anaconda has planned to spend their money. Period.

The DOR vehemently disagrees with Anaconda using TIFID money to renovate Mitchell Stadium – the current home of the Copperheads’ football and track and field teams. So much so they took SD10 to court in October of 2012 only to have Judge Ed McLean rule the DOR “lacked legal standing” to bring the case forward as it had not been harmed by the alleged misuse of funds.

When then DOR deputy director Alan Puera said under oath in 2012 “The TIFID is intended to build infrastructure for an industrial district, not to build football stadiums for the school district off budget,” and when the now Montana Budget Director Dan Villa told me in July of 2012, “My tax money will never go to building a football stadium,” I had a feeling what was in store for Anaconda. Since they couldn’t legally prove impropriety, they would resort to the next best situation – change the law.

Now, SD10 must hurdle Montana giants NorthWestern Energy’s “double taxation” claims and the DOR with HB114 if they want to use money the Office of Public Instruction already deemed “legal and entitled use” of TIFID funds.

And according to an April 3, 2014 document published on the DOR Web site, 45 other TIFs – categorized by either Industrial or Urban Renewal – list some sort of revenue received by local schools within their respective districts. They aren’t just taking this fight to Anaconda, this bill will have significant repercussions to public schools statewide.

Mitchell Stadium, along with many other buildings in Anaconda, is in desperate need of repairs. And no matter what people think, it IS a school building. The proposed construction was to be about $5 million, a drop in the bucket in my opinion to return the grandeur and glory to a staple of our community that has deteriorated over time. However, some opinions state the lack of use of the facility doesn’t equate to that sum of money. Tell that to Butte High fans about Naranche Stadium.

Yes, Naranche was revitalized with TIFID funds just in time to play host to the Bulldogs – the 2012 Class AA State Championship football team. Being in that facility on Friday night, Nov. 16, for the state championship did it for me. What an atmosphere!

Tell Butte High or its fans a football stadium isn’t worth the money. Some places cannot be measured by solely using a price tag. (Here’s a story I did about Naranche Stadium in 2012)

When asking Rep. Miller why he was introducing HB114 via Twitter, his response was, “Follow the law!” and “My understanding is that there are a couple districts that do not do it the way the rest of the districts do.”

And what I found most alarming was Rep. Miller doesn’t even specifically know why he’s introducing HB114. I would think if you want change – a change that alters the way the law reads and is adhered to – you must feel pretty strongly against the way it’s been done in the past.

So why is Rep. Miller even introducing HB114? I’ll tell you why, someone told him to. This year he’s sponsoring Bills for two separate hunting measures, a revised tax law related to pollution control and a revision to the TIFID laws for Montana schools. Some wide range, I’d say.

If as a representative you want to remove the stigma of dirty politics, you may want to at least be schooled on the reasons you are asking for TIFID reform for Montana school districts.

HB114 would likely be a death sentence for Anaconda schools, and it looks as though a representative with an ulterior agenda with some friends in high, or low as it were, places may be playing the executioner.