By Ron VandenBoom
Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, told fellow Democrats at Tuesday's Central Committee meeting he favors the idea that the special session of the Montana Legislature consider the sale of Montana Power Company.
"I think we ought to take it up and make the law more specific," he said, while at the same time acknowledging it will probably make the special session "a long and lengthy battle."
Gov. Marc Racicot called the special session for May 8 on the single issue of finding a way to fund HB 260 a Republican proposed economic development package that was passed during the last legislative session.
Racicot has also threatened to veto any legislation passed by the session that is not related to funding HB 260.
Despite the governor's threat, politicians from both sides of the aisle have made it clear that they intend to bring other issues before the legislature. The sale of MPC is one of those issues.
Peck explained to his fellow Hill County Democrats at the Central Committee meeting Tuesday that most attorneys disagree with MPC's position that claims current law covers a stock sale.
It is a stock sale of the company, as opposed to an asset sale, MPC is considering, Peck explained.
"The law clearly mentions assets," Peck said. "But it doesn't mention stock."
Montana Power argues, Peck said, that they don't have to worry because the law implies that stock is included.
Peck also told the Democrats that the Public Service Commission had already voted 4-1 in favor of drafting of new language in the law that would make more specific the issue of stock sales.
"This has the potential to be a real political issue down there," Peck said, referring to the session while questioning what the sale could mean to consumers.
Montana Power maintains that stock holders are the people who take the risk and using the old capitalist principle of "those who take the risk deserve the profits," insist it is they who should reap the benefits of any sale.
Noting that he too has stock in MPC, Peck questions in what way he would be better off accepting profit from a stock sale or accepting the profit as a rate-payer.
Peck went on to explain that MPC is currently valued at $950 million and there is speculation that the sale of stock could reach as high as $1.5 billion.
"There is a feeling on the part of some people that the rate payers should at least share in the profit if there are large profits," Peck said.
Montana Power has also maintained, Peck said, that the Committee on Deregulation has all the power to review the sale but questions whether this means they also have the power to review the profits from the sale.
Peck said a lot of questions regarding the sale need to be clarified before any sale takes place.
"We need to know how this is going to impact rate-payers," he said.