Bully for the Bully

By Beacon Staff

By now, you’ve probably heard of the flap over Governor Schweitzer’s release of infrastructure grant monies … about $5 million authorized by the Legislature and scattered around the state, including the Mennonite Road improvement in the Flathead.

The funds first became available because federal “stimulus” funds (opposed by conservatives) could be dumped into the general fund, “releasing” other funds elsewhere. It’s kinda like scrounging cans in the ditch and scoring a $100 bill: Your supper options look much better. Even if it’s crusted with coke dust, d’ya REALLY care how it got there? Nah. If it bothers you, toss it in the washer, and THEN spend it.

But over the past year, Montana’s general fund shrank more than expected. Schweitzer then scotched certain “stimulus” projects … an oddly large proportion of which appeared to be sited in districts where public support for the “stimulus” is, um, lacking – like Flathead County.

In essence, Schweitzer threw down a challenge to conservatives to back their anti-lard rhetoric with action and/or their own cash. What a bully!

Meanwhile, Schweitzer and the all-Democrat Land Board was being royally flogged by its usual eco-suspect “allies” over leasing Otter Creek coal. The Board first tried a “no-bid” ploy which fell flat, leading to a second round in which Arch Coal agreed to pay $86 million in bid “bonus money” for a 10-year license to begin mining.

That $86 million will hit the state’s books in April – theoretically, it’s all for “education,” ironic considering the “education” seat on the land board, Denise Juneau, voted against. So, thanks to creative bookkeeping, other money now in the state’s general fund is “available” elsewhere. Magical, eh?

Arch’s bonus check is nonetheless too big a chunk to simply wash away in the general-fund money laundry. It’s coal money, to purists as sinful and dirty as a suitcase full of dope cash. Apparently, Governor Schweitzer just couldn’t resist finding out if his liberal cronies are as two-faced as his conservative enemies.

With his announcement renewing the stalled grants, Schweitzer sent out a letter asking recipient officials to declare whether they were okay with digging coal to pay for their pet projects. The New York Times’ “Green Inc” blog posted a copy of Schweitzer’s letter, which read, in part: “Please return a letter confirming that you ‘support the use of coal money for the completion of your project/projects.’

“Too often folks come to Helena and say one thing and tell the folks back home something different. Let’s hear from those who support your project/projects that are now more possible with coal money.”

The letter prompted howls from progressives, with a Sierra Clubber whining to the Times that Schweitzer was “trying to extort support” from elected officials. Yah, he was, that big bully.

The Missoula County commissioners, in defense of improving the substandard Big Flat Road, pulled out all the stops. Their response letter to Schweitzer claims the project was “deemed imperative […] the single most important public safety road project [bold original] great deal of public support […] petition with 114 signatures [….] offering support for the project.”

Hmmm. Couldn’t they fund this “imperative” themselves?

Rather than answer, they instead declared, “politicizing a public safety issue by requiring support for an Administration’s policy in order to obtain appropriated funds sets a perilous precedent which will ultimately corrupt the conduct of the people’s business.”

So, d’ya want the coal money or not?

For way too long, at too many levels, public officials have scrounged, begged, demanded – and too often wasted – funding without bothering to become fully aware, and properly respectful, of the source of the money.

The commissioners’ implication that they are entitled to clean and green funds, “washed” through the general fund, while others get the “dirty” loot, is delusional. Such hypocrisy is profoundly corrupt conduct, precisely why not only Missoula County, but all of America, is now in such a “perilous” situation.

Someone had to raise the issue, and Governor Schweitzer did. Bully or not, bully for him.