By Ron VandenBoom
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, announced Tuesday that he would investigate the possibility of proposing bill in the up-coming 57th legislature that would require all development corporations in Montana that receive state fund to open their books to audits.
Currently, Tester said, only funds awarded to economic development corporations from the state can be audited by the state.
Private funds or funds coming from the federal sources are not subject to audit.
"It's the easy solution," Tester said, adding that the receipt of state funds could be made conditional on a development corporation's agreement to open all their books to state review.
Tester emphasized that he does not believe development corporations generally, or the Havre based Bear Paw Development Corporation particularly, have done anything unethical. He does however express concern that no mechanism currently exists that insures accountability of taxpayer funds.
Tester also said that because most of the directors sitting on the boards that govern these 501C-3 private corporations are public and government officials, a certain amount of taxpayer representation is inherent.
But he questions whether this, in and of itself, is enough.
Tester said he believes development corporations can and do play a vital role in economic development and he does not want the legislature to "shoot ourselves in the foot," when it comes to economic development.
"I do think however that they are accountable with the legislature," he said.
"I think we're very fortunate that we have them in our district," he said.
Tester said he was unaware development corporations were immune to state audits until he was asked to research a question posed to him by the Havre Daily News.