Unfortunately for Montana’s public school classrooms, big corporations refusing to pay the taxes is apparently a fairly common practice.
Pennsylvania Power and Light, a multi-national company worth $17 billion, did the same thing more than ten years ago after acquiring its dams from Montana Power. This was in large measure the reason Great Falls Public Schools had to close down a middle school to make up for the money PP&L owed but refused to pay.
The district was forced to put 6th graders back in elementary schools, which soon led to overcrowding. It will surprise no one that the city and the school board became divided over which of the three middle schools they would have to close. Several highly respected school board trustees were voted out of office thereafter, replaced by a group that voted to reverse the previous school board’s decision and close another middle school instead.
Great Falls schools suffered the brunt of PP&L’s actions, but as the Billings Gazette reported, schools in Sanders Count (Thompson Falls), Lewis and Clark County (Helena) and Rosebud County (Colstrip) were also impacted.
All thanks to PP&Ls refusing to pay the its taxes and protesting them instead, 94% of which courts later ruled the company owed and must pay–but by then the damage to these school districts was done.
As Mike Dennison reported in 2004, a lawyer for the state of Montana in the tax appeal case said he had “never seen a taxpayer so blatant in its attempt to avoid being taxed on its fair market value.”
At the time, PP&L also tried to send unsolicited political donations to state legislative candidates, state Sen. Jim Elliott of Thompson Falls refused to take the money. It would be interesting to see who has been taking political contributions from Charter and Verizon, the corporations the most recent examples of this kind of despicable behavior.