Posted: Oct 29, 2010 9:14 AM by Beth Saboe/Jay Kohn
The "Cap The Rate" Initiative on the Montana ballot is getting a lot of attention in this off-year election. But, there's more to Montana Initiative 164 than what meets the eye.
Supporters of I-164 say the measure will protect Montanans from predatory lenders who charge up to 400% annual interest on short-term, emergency loans.
After several attempts to pass a similar cap failed in previous legislative sessions, organizers decided to go another route and put the issue before voters.
"When we began this work we started by trying to understand the attitude of Montanans. and we did that through a poll, and we found that 75% strongly supported limiting the rate to 36%," said Linda Reed with the Montana Community Foundation. "And that was across all sorts of demographic characteristics; age, geography, political affiliation. We felt like representative government had not performed its duty."
I-164 backers also believe the interest cap will stop people from falling into a cycle of debt.
"You have a business model of 400% you're automatically targeted a group of people who are least able to pay those rates. That's why we think they're predatory, that's why the people of Montana need to voice their opinion and vote for I-164 to end a practice that's taking money out of the pockets of Montanans and money out of our communities," Reed added.
Supporters also discount claims that I-164 will put payday loan stores out of business.
But that's just what Bernie Harrington says will happen:
"It will put us out of business...we'll have locations that will close," Harrington said.
Harrington owns six E-Z check cashing stores across Montana and employs 41 full time workers. But that could all change next Tuesday if I-164 passes.
"I think consumers are worried about it, that they'll no longer have that option...they're living with it until next week too," Harrington said.
"The other side has the advantage when it comes to sound bite politics, but that's all it is, sound bite politics," he added. "There's no substance to that."
Harrington says the sad irony of Initiative 164 is that the very consumers it purports to help are the ones who could end up losing the most. He also believes that those pushing I-164 are honorably intentioned, but that their initiative is misguided.