HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer is telling House Republicans who voted against stimulus spending that they must write a letter saying they now support it if they want local money for projects.
The request for a formal letter follows weeks of warnings from the governor that he was going to need to hear the opponents say they wanted the money.
The Schweitzer administration in January froze 50 local grants totaling $3.5 million as a way to save money. Now, the governor said that the state’s deal to sell Otter Creek coal in a package that includes an $85 million up-front bonus allows him to release some of the money.
But there are strings attached.
He recently told officials in Missoula he needs them to write a letter supporting a decision to make money by selling state coal if they want to see their portion. The move drew criticism from local leaders and environmentalists alike.
The governor’s other letter requests targets Republicans.
But Republican Rep. Lee Randall of Broadus said the governor is playing games — and he won’t have any part in it. He plans to help Broadus get the $16,000 targeted for a town hall renovation with a private fundraiser.
In Broadus last week, Schweitzer told local officials he needs a letter from community members and leaders saying they support one-time-only state money for the project, another from Randall saying he also supports the state funding, and one confirming that local officials “support the use of coal money.”
Randall said he opposed House Bill 645 — a complex bill that spent a lot of state money freed up by federal stimulus dollars — because he didn’t want to put the nation deeper into debt.
“He’s termed out and he no longer has any accountability to the voters,” Randall said of the governor. “He’s going around hitting the hornet’s nest, that’s what he’s doing.”
Schweitzer said he’s doing nothing of the kind, and just wants to make sure the local communities really support the projects and want the money.
“If the community’s against it, there’s kind of a rule that you don’t shove it down their throats,” Schweitzer said.
Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss says that county’s letter to Schwietzer will voice support for the project — but mentions nothing of coal money.
“We feel that the Montana Legislature approved the funds for this money,” Curtiss said. “We met all the criteria and deadlines. We were the only proposal asked to do an environmental assessment.”
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