HELENA — The MEA-MFT union has asked the Montana Supreme Court to throw out a ballot measure by Charter Communi-cations to reclassify its property for tax purposes and block a tax hike exceeding 300 percent.
The union representing educators and government employees filed the petition Monday against the state and Attorney General Tim Fox and challenged the “legal sufficiency” of Initiative 172. It contended that the ballot statement is “systematically untrue and argumentative and cannot be easily fixed.”
The petition said voters “should at least be informed that by approving I-172, they are agreeing that a telecommunications company should pay less taxes and they will be required to pay more.”
MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver said the union filed the lawsuit for one reason: “Bottom line, we will do what we can to prevent Charter from assaulting Montana’s tax code for its exclusive self-interest.”
Fox’s office’s received the challenge late Monday and is reviewing it before filing its response next week, spokesman John Barnes said.
Chuck Denowh, spokesman for Big Sky Broadband Coalition for Lower Taxation, which supports I-172, called the union’s petition “a standard political tactic.”
“We’re going to continue our efforts to keep broadband affordable for all the Montanans who depend on it to grow their businesses, create jobs and bring innovation to this state,” Denowh said. “We’re going to move forward and let Montana voters have a say on this massive 300 percent retroactive tax increase.”
State officials cleared the initiative for supporters to begin gathering signatures on May 6. To qualify I-172 for the November ballot, backers need the signatures of nearly 25,000 registered voters by June 20.
If the court doesn’t throw out the proposed ballot measure, MEA-MFT asked it to replace the attorney general’s ballot and fiscal impact statement with one submitted by former state Revenue Director Dan Bucks.
The petition, filed for MEA-MFT by Helena lawyers John Morrison and Brian Miller, called I-172 is an attempt to undo the court’s December ruling in Bresnan Communications LLC v. the state Department of Revenue. Charter now owns Bresnan.
“I-172, on its face, constitutes an appropriation and ‘special legislation,” the union said. “The attorney general erred in concluding that I-172 is legally sufficient and could be submitted to the electors.”
If I-172 passes, it would reduce the revenues already into the state treasury and a university system special fund, the MEA-MFT said. A portion of Charter’s protested taxes already have been deposited into the state general fund. As a result, I-172 would require an appropriation and result in the direct expenditure of funds from the state treasury without a further appropriation by the Legislature, the union said.
It would reduce future state tax revenue by $1.1 million annually and decrease future university revenue by about $72,000 a year, the petition said. It would require an expenditure of $10.3 million from general fund revenue and $645,000 in university state special revenue and shift $55.1 million retroactively and $6.1 million prospectively in tax liability to other taxpayers, MEA-MFT said.