Montana lawmakers are acting like Putin’s pups

Bills to save aging coal-fired power plants would place all the liability on Montana taxpayers

April 4, 2021 9:45 am

Gov. Brian Schweitzer

I didn’t study political science in college. I’m a soil scientist. So when people sling political terms around, I have to look them up in Webster’s Dictionary.

Webster writes that “socialism is when government takes over the means of production.” Webster’s says that  “crony capitalism” occurs when business thrives not because of risk, but because of a cozy nexus between the business and the political class to make money for the corrupt. Communism, like Russia, is a perfect blend of the two.

Why do we need to know these definitions?

Because the Montana Legislature is considering a couple of doozies.

Senate Bill 266 would nullify a contract signed between private companies in Washington, Oregon and South Dakota doing business in Montana. These companies signed a private contract between themselves 14 years ago to maintain an aging electric-generating power plant in Montana. The state of Montana was not a party to the contract.

The South Dakota company doesn’t want to abide by the contract with its partners. So they got a state senator (who is the son of a former prominent executive of the same company) to propose a bill that would exclude the experienced owners of the power plant from trusting the advice of the mechanical and electrical engineers who have run the plant for 35 years. SB 266 tells the engineers to follow directions from the Montana Attorney General (a government lawyer) on how to run the plant. And if the engineers don’t do what the government lawyer tells them to do in their own plant, the lawyer can fine the companies $100,000 a day.

A fine mix of socialism and crony capitalism to match Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The same state senator, Steve Fitzpatrick, has proposed another Putin-style job killer bill. SB 379 would have Montana electric ratepayers take all the risk to pay for an aging power plant with no guarantee that the plant would ever produce electricity for their home or business. SB 379 would put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of the same South Dakota company by taking the money from the pockets of Montana families and businesses.

You would expect these bills to be laughed out of Helena. Nope. Almost every Republican has embraced these Russian-style bills with the understanding that they’ll be paid for by Montana taxpayers.

No company would stand for big government unilaterally changing private contracts to favor one party over the other, which SB 266 would do. Why would a company choose Montana knowing that our electric rates are already the highest in the region and will soon go higher thanks to SB 379?

Gov. Greg Gianforte has proclaimed that he would like to attract more businesses to invest in Montana. That’s a great plan. I hope he’s successful.

As governor for eight years, I was successful in attracting business to Montana. Putin, however, has a very difficult time getting any companies to come to Russia because of communism and crony capitalism. If Montana joins Russia with these bad laws, no company will come here.

Governor Gianforte, you don’t have to use my branding iron to veto these bills. Just say no and veto them with your pen.

Your veto will stop Republican legislators from acting like Putin’s pups.

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