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HELENA — A political action committee apparently backed by residents in oil and gas counties is using radio ads to attack two Republican state senators over plans to use oil and gas money to finance public schools.

Montanans for Fair Taxation PAC, which registered with the state political practices office two weeks ago, is sponsoring radio ads criticizing Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, and Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish.

One ad accused Zinke of making “a backroom deal with Democrats to raise taxes and redistribute funds from our rural schools.”

Another said Peterson is “trying to raise your taxes,” and that “a few senators are scheming to raise your taxes and redistribute oil and gas school funds to districts that work against natural-resource development.”

The ads ran earlier this month on radio stations in Zinke’s and Peterson’s respective Senate districts.

Zinke is the sponsor of Senate Bill 329, which has become the main school funding bill at the Legislature and, in its current form, would redistribute statewide about $17 million in oil and gas tax revenue that goes now to petroleum-producing school districts. The bill includes nearly $1.5 billion in state funds for schools the next two years.

Peterson also has said that oil and gas school districts should expect to give up some of their revenues for statewide funding of schools.

Only a handful of oil and gas school districts in far Eastern Montana would forfeit some funds under SB329. Most of them have multimillion-dollar reserves and surpluses, thanks to an oil and gas boom in the region.

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Montanans for Fair Taxation PAC has yet to file a report listing its contributors. However, Dustin Frost, a Billings political consultant whose company prepared the ads, said the group is supported by individuals in oil and gas counties who worry that the plans to take some of the local oil and gas funds will mean higher local property tax increases to replace that revenue.

Zinke said the ad naming him and accusing him of supporting higher taxes is “misleading, dishonest and despicable.”

Peterson said he’s “not too happy about (the ad), but it is what it is.”

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