It seems the controversial Riverfront Triangle decision was fast-tracked this week by Missoula Mayor John Engen, who precipitated the vote nearly a week early of its scheduled time. Engen’s decision effectively raids Missoula’s public coffers for Nick Checota’s private gain. $16.5 million of Missoula’s tax money will be diverted to constructing yet another downtown hotel as well as yet another concert venue, owned by the same entertainment monopoly that owns most of the others: Logjam Presents, owned by Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota.
Railroading public meetings to deliberately exclude taxpayers who pay for these monstrosities smacks of the despicable crony-capitalism Americans have grown to loathe. Engen and Checota succeed in turning an already controversial project into a scandal. As Checota attempts to Jam the Log of his monopoly down our ear holes and into our pocketbooks, many wonder if the city really has workers best interests in mind. And can’t that kind of money be better spent?
If you believe, as Martin Luther King did, that budgets are moral documents, then we are obligated to ask ourselves whether it should be our local government’s priority to further enrich local tycoons, while homelessness in Missoula is now so bad that we have billboards announcing the exact number of homeless children in our town. And a huge proportion of Missoulians are struggling worse than ever to make ends meet, but all the city can think to do is squeeze already desperate taxpayers for “just a little bit more” in perpetuity.
But thank God we also have all these music venues to get drunk at so we can forget about what a dumpster fire our town has turned into, right? And thank God we aren’t using taxpayer money to make the city a safer, healthier, more prosperous place to live.
The city wants you and me and all our neighbors to pay for Nick Checota’s fancy new eyesore; a venue that we don’t need, don’t want, and shouldn’t be talking about. There are already enough concert venues in this town owned and operated by Nick “monopoly” Checota; the Top Hat, Wilma Theater and Kettlehouse Amphitheater are the ones most of us know about, but he also enjoys exclusive booking rights at the Osprey Stadium, and now he’s branching out into Bozeman with The Elm. And it goes on and on. And it’s somehow never enough.
We the people of Missoula somehow have less agency over how our tax dollars are going to be spent, indeed extorted, by the likes of those who abuse Tax Increment Financing (TIF): Stockman Bank’s Bill Coffee, Andy “homebase” Holloran, Peter Lambros, and now Nick Checota.
If the city continues to abuse TIF by siphoning tax money from hard working Montanans to construct objects of disgraceful gentrification, then TIFs should be outlawed altogether. Becoming utterly dependent on future gains and projected earnings to pay for existing projects seems a precarious gamble when considering even short periods of American history. But forcing Montanans to further enrich an obscenely wealthy Wisconsinite is just plain wrong.