The Billings Gazette from Billings, Montana on October 3, 1990 · 9
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The Billings Gazette from Billings, Montana · 9

Billings, Montana
Issue Date:
Wednesday, October 3, 1990
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C The Billings Gazette Wednesday, October 3, 1990 3-B VoifeF guide -offers sharp debate on By BILL LOMBARDI Gazette Helena Bureau HELENA Backers of a controversial plan to abolish state taxes and institute a trade charge invoke God and the freedom supposedly cherished by Montanans in the newly published Montana Voter's Guide to the 1990 Election published by the secretary of state's office. "The dream of freedom is more alive under the big skies of Montana than anywhere else in the world," supporters of Constitutional Initiative 55 write in the guide. "We're humbly grateful to God for this opportunity to offer our fellow Montanans the gift of freedom from arbitrary and discriminatory taxes." Hooey, say opponents. "Proponents appeal to emotion instead of common sense," they write. "Like them, we love our state. Unlike them, we see no reason to adopt a tax that would make us the laughingstock of the nation." The give-and-take between opponents and proponents is heating up on CI-55, which would amend the Montana Constitution to require that state government be funded by the assessment of a 1 percent charge on every business and financial transaction conducted wholly or partly in the state. If it passes Nov. 6, the initiative would prohibit income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, as well as registration or license fees. The guide notes that information isn't available to estimate how much the trade charge would raise a point opponents have criticized as a major flaw in the proposal. The guide does say that revenue from the taxes that would be abolished by the initiative totaled $1.1 billion in fiscal 1987. Proponents have estimated that the charge could raise between $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion a year. "Montana will thrive with 55!" proponents write, add ing that abolishing property taxes and state income taxes will encourage creation of jobs, "so we expect our state's economy to be the most vibrant in the nation" after the initiative passes. Proponents argue that a trade charge would be simple and would give Montanans the right to control the revenue process. They also take a swipe at opponents, saying, "Unfortunately, the newness of the trade charge concept permits those who benefit from the existing tax system to spread lots of speculative rumors about CI-55." While admitting that Montana's tax system could stand some revision, opponents contend that CI-55 is "extremist in origin and totally impractical in its approach. It in no way adds up to sensible tax reform." Businesses, they say, would flee the state; local governments and school districts would become totally dependent on the state Legislature to pay for services; an underground economy would be spawned; and Montanans' share of federal taxes would skyrocket because residents wouldn't be allowed to deduct the trade charge from their income taxes; "None of us knows how much we would pay if the trade charge scheme is adopted," opponents conclude. "Do you?" The proponents' argument and rebuttal were written by Naomi Powell of Corvallis and Pete Schell and Jennings Don Hurst, both of Hamilton. The opponents' argument and rebuttal were written by Chase Hibbard, a vice president of the Montana Tax Reform Coalition; House Speaker John Vincent, D-Boze-man, who is considering a run for governor in 1992; Sen. Bob Brown, R-Whitefish, and chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee; Forrest "Buck" Boles, president of the Montana Chamber of Commerce; and Dennis Lopach, a lawyer for US West Communications in Helena. Claim cosfls state at least $ 1 80,000 E t m m tt 7 i i i w I 1 1 M K L V1I M:IhH JjQ By KEVIN McRAE Gazette Helena Bureau HELENA A dishonest insurance claim that surfaced during a recent wrongful discharge trial against the state could cost Montana taxpayers at least $180,000 after the bills are settled. Authorities with the state Administration Department said Tuesday that the costs could be higher, but they did not know by how much. Stephen Weber, former assistant administrator of the Administration Department's Tort Claims Division, won a district court trial last week for his claim that he was illegally forced to resign in 1988. Weber said his superiors made working conditions unbearable for him after he told government auditors about an inflated insurance claim they ordered him to approve. The following are taxpayer expenses linked to the insurance claim and the resulting lawsuit: Damages of $33,230 awarded by the jury to Weber for losing his job. Attorney fees of $40,000 that the Tort Claims Division expects to pay Great Falls lawyer Max Davis for defending the state against Weber's lawsuit. A 1986 flood-damage insurance claim of $111,000 that the department approved and taxpayers funded. Weber's lawyers, Erik Thueson and Bob Peterson, argued that the claim cheated taxpayers out of roughly $100,000 because most of the equipment listed on the claim form was either undamaged, worthless or obsolete. George Harris, assistant administrator of Tort Claims, said Tuesday the division has not settled the bill with Davis, adding that division Administrator John Maynard predicts the attorney fees will be $40,000. The Weber case was unusual because tort claims, the office assigned to defend state agencies against lawsuits, was a defendant on trial The jury sided with Weber on a 10-2 verdict, although the $33,230 he received in damages was less than he wanted. Ethnic issues meeting topic Racial harassment, purported affiliation with gangs and other topics are on the agenda for the bimonthly meeting of the Billings Forum for Racial and Ethnic Equality, Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. at the Friendship House, 3123 8th Ave. S. B-FREE's goals for 1990 are to : Promote the observance of the national holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Establish better communication with local government, organizations and the media. Enhance employment and educational opportunities. And, develop social awareness. 2 arrested in beating Two men were arrested early Tuesday morning for allegedly beating a Laurel woman after driving her home from a local bar, police said. David Murray, 39, and Robert Hoffman, 18, were both being held on $10,000 bonds in the Yellowstone County jail later Tuesday, Laurel Police Chief Alan Crowe said. Crowe said at least one of the men argued with the female victim after giving her a ride to her home at about 2: 15 a.m. Laurel police officers responded to the scene after neighbors reported hearing a fight, Crowe said. Both Murray and Hoffman were arrested for felony assault, but Crowe said those charges may change as the investigation continues. Youth arrested for burglary Billings police arrested a 17-year-old boy Tuesday morning after the youth allegedly broke into a grocery store with a rock and stole several cartons of cigarettes. Acting Chief of Police Jack Samson said the youth broke a large window at Joe's Market, 909 Fourth St. W, at about 3:30 a.m. The burglar grabbed 18 cartons of cigarettes, valued at $255, but was spotted by police as he ran down a nearby alley, Samson said. The youth continued to run and was finally arrested in the 300 block of Broadwater Avenue, Samson said. Women's Lobby to meet Montana Women's Lobby will hold a hearing Oct. 11 for Yellowstone County Legislators on issues critical to Montana women. The public meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Community Room of Parmly Billings Library and is free. Faculty lecture series starts Rocky Mountain College will hold the first in a series of faculty lectures on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m., in Fortin Auditorium. Jay CasseL RMC associate professor of religious thought, will be the first faculty lecturer. The title of his talk will be "The Theologian Emerges (However Briefly) from the Closet." The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call the RMC college relations office at 657-1105. Class for computer novices If the thought of operating a computer causes you to tremble with fear, Rocky Mountain College has a solution: a computer phobia class where neophytes can learn computer basics. The class will be held on two consecutive Saturdays: Oct. 27, from 8 a.m. to" noon, and Nov. 3, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Bair Computer Lab on the RMC campus. Cost for the class is $56. To register, or for more information, call the RMC Community Serivces Office at 657-1040. Suit links firing to GOP 'scheme' HELENA (AP) The firing of a former Montana Republican Party official was part of the GOP's scheme to violate federal and state election laws, and his lawsuit against the party therefore should not be dismissed, a federal judge has been told. In a brief filed with U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena, the attorney for Terry Merica said a letter dismissing Merica was an instance of mail fraud used by the political party and a national GOP organization to misspend thousands of dollars in the 1988 election. Merica and his wife, Neida, who worked as administrative secretary for the Montana GOP, have sued the party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. They allege that they were wrongly fired in December 1988 for raising questions about the legality of money transfers between the two political groups. The suit also accuses the organizations of violating federal racketeering laws by committing wire and mail fraud in handling the money and fun-neling it into the successful campaigns of Sen. Conrad Burns and Gov. Stan Stephens. Continued stories a- It was necessary for the defendants to discharge the plaintiffs from their positions and discredit their performance in order to further their fraudulent scheme. ' v Brian Gallik former official's lawyer 9? Early last month, the state GOP and national committee asked Lovell to dismiss the suit. Federal racketeering laws do not apply to actions governed by election statutes or to claims of wrongful discharge, the organizations said. But Brian Gallik, Merica's lawyer, said in his brief filed Friday that the firing was an inherent part of attempts by the party and committee to evade election laws. Because the Mericas had openly questioned and criticized money transfers, they "represented a major stumbling block to the defendants in their attempts to circumvent federal and state campaign spending limits," Gallik said. "In order to remove this 'obstruction,' it was necessary for the defendants to discharge the plaintiffs from their positions and discredit their performance in order to further their fraudulent scheme," he wrote. Because the firings were part of the state GOP's illegal activities and were accomplished with a letter, the dismissals amount to mail fraud and that gives the Mericas a legal basis for the suit, Gallik said. Bond From Page IB near the Exxon Billings Refinery in Lockwood. The plant would produce steam and electricty by burning petroleum coke and gases from the refinery. BGI officials say the project would reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 1,500 tons a year, or about 12 percent based on 1989 refiney emissions. Limestone injected during the burning process would remove about 90 percent of the sulfur present in the coke and refinery gases, Orndorff said. Instead of going into the air, the sulfur dioxide reacts with the limestone to form calcium sulfate or gypsum, which would be disposed of at the quarry site near Warren, he said. Electricty produced would be sold to the Montana Power Co, with proceeds going to pay off the bonds. Orndorff said steam from the process would be used by the refinery, which would help Exxon reduce its burning of high-sulfur f ueL The project would employ up to 350 workers during the construction period and create 35 new, permanent jobs. Construction is planned for spring 1991. MacKay, who also is a member of the Board of Investments, said the project would benefit the area by creating jobs, expanding the tax base and reducing sulfur-dioxide pollution. When asked why BGI was seeking bonds for the project while Conoco asked for no help financing its $140 million coker-sulfur reduction project in Billings, Orndorff said that BGI's revenue stream was "substantially smaller" than a refinery's. The tax codes also permit a company like BGI to seek tax-exempt bonds, he said, adding the economics of the project make it "critical we avail ourselves of that tax benefit to attract investors." In addition to the bonds, BGI also needs to obtain approval from the Public Service Commission for power rates with MPC, an air quality permit for the construction of the plant and a water quality permit for the ash disposaL Orndorff said the PSC currently is reviewing a proposed, 35-year contract between MPC and BGL and that he expected the contract to be approved in about three months. He said the proposed contract sets the initial rate at 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour, which is 3 times less than the consumer rate and less than the typical buy-back rate the power company pays to alternative power producers. From 1994 to 2000, the rate the power company would pay BGI goes up unevenly, then from 2000 on, the rate increase is fixed. The later fixed-rate esclation is how the project will be financed, Orndorff said, but that during the early years, the project is "extremely thin." BGI plans to submit more information in a few weeks to the Air Quality Bureau, Orndorff said. The bureau said BGI's permit application was incomplete on Aug. 6 and requested more information about how the project would reduce sulfur dioxide pollution. BGI also is seeking a water quality permit for its ash disposal in Carbon County. Orndorff said the ash is a stable, non-hazardous material that sets up like concrete when water is applied. He estimated the cogeneration plant would produce about 65,00( tons of ash a year, and that four, covered truck loads a day would be hauled to the site. BGI has nol yet developed a market for the ash. Shootings From Page IB motive of the slaying is quite similar to others that Sinclair is suspected of committing. 4. Mishawaka, Ind, August 1)85 Thomas L. Rohr, a retired policeman, was shot several times during the robbery of Nunemak-ers Coin Shop, where he was employed. Investigators have said that the gunman closely resembles Forest Leon Ethington, who is believed to be Sinclair's long-time associate and mentor. While witnesses did not describe Sinclair, investigators have not ruled out that more than one gunman participated in the crime. 5. Kansas City, Ms, March 1988 A coin shop owner was shot and killed with a small-caliber handgun by a man spotted by witnesses in the shop days before the slaying. The gunman was wearing an arm sling identical to the one worn by the killer of two people in Billings. At the time of the shooting, the gunman had a beard. Investigators have said that when a beard is added to a drawing of Sinclair, the descriptions are nearly identical. L Spokane, Wash, July 1987 Leo Cashatt was shot in the head with a small-caliber handgun during the robbery of Cashatt Coins, which he owned. The gunman in that case matches the description of Sinclair, investigators in that city have said. Police also recovered from storage lockers rented by Sinclair in Sumas, Wash, a Gonzaga University 100th anniversary silver coin and a metal cupboard with various receipts from Cashatt Coins. 7. Murray, Utah, May MM Legacy Rare Coins was robbed of an estimated $70,000 in rare coins by a lone man armed with a .22aliber handgun. The victim survived a single gunshot wound to the head and has since identified Sinclair as his assailant Utah authorities have charged Sinclair with robbery and attempted homicide in the case. 8. Billings, Mont, July lJ Charles Sparboe, owner of Treasure State Silver and Gold at 924 Grand Ave, and his employee, Catherine Newstrom, were killed during the robbery of $54,000 in rare coins and silver from the shop. Sparboe was shot once, and Newstrom was shot twice. According to a Yellowstone County warrant, a .22-caliber handgun missing three bullets was found in the silver Pontiac that the gunman left behind in Jackson, Wyo. Also found were coin wrappings from the Billings coin shop and a hat and arm sling the gunman was seen wearing. Several witnesses also provided a description of Sinclair. Abductions: Jefferson County, in Washington state, August 198S Robert and Dagmar Linton disappeared while they traveled through Washington state on the way to Vancouver, B.C. From the lockers rented by Sinclair in Sumas, Wash, investigators recovered a clarinet they believe was purchased with one of the victim's credit cards. The bodies of the two victims have not been found. Vancouver, B.C, June 19M A couple was abducted and killed while traveling through the Vancouver area. According to police, the man was bludgeoned to death with a rock and the woman was raped before being killed. Investigators have declined to specify what evidence has been recovered linking Sinclair to those slayings. Conviction set aside in 1 983 rape case By vikki Mclaughlin Of the Gazette Staff A Billings man who has been in prison for seven years after convictions for rape and aggravated kidnapping has won a new trial or release, according to an order issued Monday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The only other option open to Montana prosecutors in the case of Robert Lee Norris is to appeal the circuit court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Teresa Mann O'Connor. Meanwhile, O'Connor said she began searching Tuesday for witnesses from the 7-year-old trial. Norris, who was convicted in 1983 on two counts of raping a 15-year-old girl and of holding the girl in his home for several hours, was sentenced to 90 years in the Montana State Prison. The victim said she had been lured to Norris' home on the promise of a babysitting job. In the summer of 1989, the circuit court granted Norris' request for an evidentiary hearing, ordering U.S. District Judge James Battin to hold the hearing on whether representatives of the Rape Task Forc.e had worn "Women Against Rape" buttons in the courtroom during Norris' trial Norris had claimed that the presence of women wearing the buttons influenced the jury and prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Battin ruled in May this year that Norris had received a fair triaL adopting the prosecutors' findings that there were "two or less" such buttons in the courtroom during the triaL said O'Connor, who prosecuted Norris in 1983. O'Connor said she testified at the hearing that she had not seen any buttons. The defense attorney, the judge and most of the jurors said the same, she said. But the appeals court ruled Monday that the findings of the hearing did not present a "sufficient showing" that the buttons were not worn in the courtroom, O'Connor said. She said she had not yet seen the two-paragraph order issued by the court, but it was read to her by an official in the state attorney general's office. The court was concerned that there was "substantial danger that Norris' constitutional rights were violated," O'Connor said. The ruling remands the case to the state for retrial as soon as possible, she said. If a new trial is not held, the U.S. District Court would be required to order Norris released. O'Connor said it will be Attorney General Marc Racicot's decision whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be up to Yellowstone County Attorney Harold Hanser whether to retry the case if enough witnesses can be found who can still remember the events of seven years ago. Show probes missing man By JILL SUNDBY Of the Gazette Staff On Wednesday at 7 p.m, NBCs "Unsolved Mysteries" will air the story of a man who disappeared and whose car was found along Interstate 94 near Miles City. The segment, filmed June 29-30 in Great Falls, features Custer County Sheriff Tony Harbaugh and Deputy Mark Lester. In August 1988, a 1987 Chevrolet Spectrum was found 15 miles east of Miles City. Montana Highway Patrolman Stub Ames had noticed the empty car, sitting on the roadside one day and unmoved the second day, so the car was towed. The car was traced to 35-year-old Spokane resident Dan Wilson, who had disappeared 24 hours earlier. There was no evidence of foul play in the car or around the car, and an areawtde search turned up no trace of Wilson. According to Harbaugh, Wilson supposedly was recognized four or five months later at the Billings Rescue Mission by a man who had seen Wilson's picture on a flier. "I called, a couple detectives checked it out and someone by the name of Daniel Wilson had checked in and stayed there one day," said Harbaugh. "After that, the trail went cold." The "Unsolved Mysteries" scenes were shot in Great Falls, where the TV crews were filming another mystery. After recreating a scene where Harbaugh takes Wilson's family to a towing company, where the car was, the crews shot a scene at the Great Falls Rescue Mission, representing the Billings Rescue Mission. That was followed by a shoot on a highway west of Great Falls focusing on the car's discovery. One theory suggested by the TV program is that Wilson picked up a hitchhiker, who harmed him; another explores whether a carbon monoxide leak could have caused Wilson to get amnesia. Harbaugh pointed out that Wilson had had a mental breakdown 1 years before bis disappearance, and that, according to one theory, Wilson may have wanted to escape from his situation and start a different life.

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