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Gov. Judy Martz’ economic development framework has long called for the creation of sustainable in-state jobs for Montana companies. So when the state decided to hire a collection agency to collect unpaid taxes that are either two years past due, between $10 and $200, or being billed to out-of-state addresses, it may have seemed like the ideal opportunity to throw some government business Montana’s way. After all, Collection Bureau Services (CBS) is located right here in Missoula at 212 E. Spruce St., and was one of 17 companies to put forth a bid proposal to meet the state’s collection needs. Of all the companies seeking to take over the state’s collection duties, CBS was the only one based in Montana. Given Martz’ goal of boosting local economies, it would seem like a no-brainer that the Department of Revenue would favor the local guys. There’s just one problem: That would be illegal, according to Neil Peterson, administrator of the Montana Department of Revenue’s customer service center.

“I don’t believe you can do that under the inter-state commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Peterson says.

Instead, the bid went to Houston-based GC Services, the largest privately held collection agency in the country, with contracts in 14 states, aside from many deals with local governments.

With such a clause in our country’s oldest document and the Department of Revenue’s hands tied, now might be a time to ask ourselves, “Exactly how is Martz going to promote in-state jobs when shows of local favoritism are often illegal?”

While we can’t answer that one, we must nonetheless remind readers that “promoting localism” still won’t be considered a valid excuse for failing to pay your taxes.

•••

What’s the difference between a car and truck? About an inch and a half, according to Subaru.

Subaru recently announced that for model year 2005, the company intends to transform Missoula’s vehicles of choice—the Outback sedan and wagon—from cars to light trucks, at least in terms of government classification. Critics say the move is a way for the company to take advantage of inconsistent federal efficiency regulations and avoid tougher fuel economy standards. While passenger cars must average at least 27.5 miles per gallon, light trucks are required to deliver only 21.2 miles per gallon.

Subaru says that the move was a response to customer demand for SUV-like features including dark-tinted side rear windows, higher ground clearance and approach angles suitable for off-road driving. (As if we haven’t seen Crocodile Dundee motor the old Outback through a variety of terrain.)

“It’s apparent that they’re making these changes to get around the mileage regulations,” Kent Brothers Automotive Subaru mechanic Steve Bierwag said. “I can’t see any other reason to do it other than as a sales tool. Some people are looking for that clearance.”

Missoula Outback driver Tiffany Reed, who likes her old Outback because it’s a good snow car, isn’t happy with the subtle changes.

“I’m disappointed,” Reed said. “I hold them to higher standards. I thought they were more ethical than that.”

Subaru Forester driver Andy Short thinks the move is legitimate.

“It’s just business,” he said as he filled his Subi at the Holiday gas station Tuesday. “They look at the bottom line and decide how they can make money.”

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