After long delays for no apparent reason, the Public Service Commission (PSC) finally issued its ruling on NorthWestern Energy’s request for a 28% electricity rate increase for residential customers. No big surprise. . . they granted the request.
All five Commissioners supported the rate increase (including Great Falls’ own Randy Pinocci, who must have made bail on his felony witness tampering charge). All five Commissioners are Republicans. Unfortunately it appears the PSC has become a feather bed for Republican activists and politicians with its $100,000 plus salary and generous benefits package which includes health insurance and retirement. None of them will have any problem paying the increased rates.
We’re not going to rehash the details of the case here. But here are a couple of takeaways.
This rate increase falls heavily on residential ratepayers and lets other “customer classes” (that’s businesses and corporations) off the hook.
Despite NorthWestern’s claims, this is a 28% increase. Don’t be fooled by the wiggle words the Company is using to minimize the size of the increase.
This increase is not because of taxes.
For details of the case, readers can follow this link to an editorial which WTF406.com ran back in June. https://wtf406.com/2023/06/editors-choice-northwestern-rate-increase-unfair/
Pinocci’s second arrest came on Friday, Oct 13th when a tenant, who was also a witness in Pinocci’s existing disorderly conduct charge, asked Pinocci to mow the lawn on a rental property. The Daily Montana reports that Pinocci responded by text, “For us to continue this relationship, you need to recant your testimony with the Sheriff’s Office,” then continues, “none of these facts that you said happened are true,” and “you’re not allowed on my property until this problem is corrected.” Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said that another witness said that Pinocci said the same thing in a telephone conversation.
Pinocci’s attorney, Ben Reed, who is also a former attorney for the Public Service Commission, said Pinocci denies all charges.
Did you know former Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton was running for President? Welp. . .not anymore. Stapleton announced he is throwing in the towel. Of course no one knew he was running, so it’s not much of a news story.
The Independent Record quoted Stapleton when he filed for the presidential race, “We’re more alike than we are different.” Stapleton said. “When you look at the last few years in America, we see chaos, dysfunction, dishonesty, disappointment. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’re better than this.”
Quite a statement since Stapleton ran a Secretary of State’s Office that was the most incompetent and corrupt statewide office in recent memory. He was under constant criticism for self-dealing and corruption. He was accused of misuse of state vehicles and channeling lucrative state contracts to his political pals (See our related story about Stapleton’s friend Jake Eaton https://wtf406.com/2023/10/rosendale-slimed-in-new-tv-ads/ )
After leaving the Secretary of State’s Office, Stapleton embarked on a bizarre effort to become a country western singer. Not kidding, check it out for yourself.
Despite repeatedly claiming that they are “fiscal conservatives,” our property taxes have increased under Republican control at the state and local level over just the last couple of years. And not just a little bit.
Proponents of mill levies (here and elsewhere) routinely tell us the impact of their proposal is a relatively small amount on a given home. They also routinely provide examples of low value houses. For example, Rocket Homes estimates the average value of a home in Cascade County is $305,581, not the $200,000 value that is being used by promoters of the City of Great Falls Safety Levy. Here’s a statement from their web page: “The Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $280.11 a year for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.”
County Safety Levy + $56.00 Per Year
Last November voters approved a County Safety Levy which was promoted by Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and the County Commissioners, majority Republicans. The proposal was for raising $2.46 million annually. The estimated impact of the County Safety Levy on a $300,000 house in Great Falls was $56.00 per year. (As an aside, Sheriff Slaughter got a 35% raise after the levy passed).
Great Falls City Safety Levy +420.00 Per Year If Passed
Next up is Commissioner Rick Tryon’s pet project, the City of Great Falls Safety Levy, which will be decided in November. This is from the Safety Levy website: “Great Falls residents will see an annual increase in their property taxes. When fully implemented, the Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $140.06 per year ($11.67 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000, and $280.11 per year ($23.34 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.“ Remember, the average cost of a home in Great Falls is over $300,000. If you use that value, the cost to an average homeowner will be more like $420.
Great Falls Safety Infrastructure Bond +$66.60 Per Year If Passed
But wait, there’s more. In addition, the City is proposing a bond election on the November ballot. The Electric describes the proposed bond election this way: “The bonds may be sold in one or more series, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed Twenty-One Million One Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand and No/100 Dollars ($21,175,000.00), bearing interest at rates to be determined at the time of the sale, payable semiannually over the term not to exceed twenty years for each series of bonds.”
How Does all of this affect a below average citizen?
Just for fun let’s take a look at how this state property tax increase affects the property tax of the biggest promoter of the City’s Safety Levy, City Commissioner Rick Tryon. To do this, we took Rick’s house through the www.taxshiftmt.com web based property tax calculator. The value of Rick’s house is considerably below the average value for Cascade County, weighing in at $227,900. Rick’s total property tax increase thanks to the Governor and the Republican legislature is $371.83. Rounding his home value down to $200,000 to simplify the math, Rick will pay an additional $280 per year if the City Safety Levy passes. The Library levy added an additional $40, and the County safety levy added $37. The safety levy bond issuance would add an additional $44.40 per year. Add all that together and it’s an increase of $772 to Rick’s property taxes. In 2022, Rick’s property tax bill was $1962. When all of these changes take effect, it will be about $2734. . .almost a 40% increase in just one year.
State Legislature’s Increase Statewide Average Increase 45%
The Republican Montana Legislature in 2023 was a virtual orgy of tax giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations, while giving the average homeowner the largest property tax increase in recent memory. On average, a Montana homeowner’s property tax increase is 45% thanks to the Legislature and Administration.
Republicans had a supermajority at the legislature, and all Cascade County’s legislative seats are held by Republicans. The county commission and the sheriff are all Republican. Though the Great Falls City Commission is technically non-partisan, Republicans hold a majority on the Commission. Councilman Joe McKenney is a former Republican Legislator. Councilman Eric Hinebauch is Chair of the local Republican Central Committee, and Councilman Rick Tryon, who routinely spews right-wing talking points from his perch as a writer for a local blog and from his seat on the City Commission, has also run for office as a Republican.
Who’s the tax and spend party?
Note: In this article, we are talking about local mill levies, so we want to point out a couple of things. Figuring out the exact impact of mill levies can be difficult, because they usually just allow local jurisdictions to levy up to a maximum. They do not automatically result in a set amount of tax increases. The impact of mill levies also changes over time based on a number of things, including valuation of the jurisdiction’s entire tax base. Bottom line numbers can be squishy. Our figures are mostly taken from articles by The Electric and various websites.