By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Miller said that if he's Montana's next governor, he'll expect department heads to show him budgets that have been cut by 10 percent and still provide the same services, or they likely will be looking for new jobs.
"I want to start with department heads who can do that," he said Friday at a meeting of the Pachyderm Club in Havre.
Miller said that because of his past experience as vice chair of the state Senate Finance Committee, he knows that department budgets can be cut without cutting services.
He said he thinks Ralph Peck is doing a good job as director of the Department of Agriculture, but expects to appoint many new department heads if elected. He mentioned Dave Galt, director of the Department of Transportation, and Gail Gray, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, as two he thinks should be replaced.
A Laurel business owner and former state senator, Miller came to Montana in 1974 when his family moved its farm from Colorado to Joliet. He also is a former Republican state chairman.
His running mate is Wayne Buchanan, former executive director of the Montana Board of Public Education.
Miller will face three opponents in the June Republican primary: Secretary of State Bob Brown, former state Sen. Tom Keating and businessman Pat Davison.
Miller said he also wants to appoint judges who rule on the law rather than make law. He criticized District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock, who ruled last week in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Montana school districts that the Montana Legislature has not been funding the state education system adequately.
"Judge Sherlock is beyond the bounds of his office," Miller said. "If he wants to legislate, he should run for the Legislature."
"We're becoming a government of 'They, the judges' instead of 'We, the people,'" Miller said.
As another example, he noted that a bill he sponsored banned a rare medical procedure referred to by opponents as partial-birth abortions. The Legislature passed the bill and the governor signed it, but it was overturned in the courts.
He said the biggest issue facing the next governor of Montana is the economy. He listed several ways he would work to improve the economy, including increasing the harvest of natural resources. Montana can benefit from its rich supply of resources like timber, coal, oil and natural gas while protecting the environment, he said.
"I see no reason we can't have our cake and eat it too," he said.
Miller pointed to Wyoming as a model. That state has a $1 billion surplus because of its natural resource policies, he said, while Montana is facing another budget deficit.
A key example is harvesting coal, he said. Montana 40 years ago set a 30 percent coal severance tax, while Wyoming has a 6 percent coal severance tax, he said.
"Guess where all the coal companies went?" Miller asked.
That increased Wyoming's revenue and created a coal tax trust fund that is considerably larger than Montana's, he added.
The state and federal governments also need to promote alternative energy, like solar and wind energy, ethanol and biodiesel, he said.
"That pulls in our agriculture and means more jobs and businesses," he said.
Miller said Montana needs to push for ways to reduce the amount of land being put into the Conservation Reserve Program, which ends up paying farmers not to plant crops. The program may keep farms in family hands, but is not keeping families on the farms, he said.
It would be better for the federal government to promote the planting of alternative crops, like safflower or barley, than to promote not planting, he said.
"We need to push hard to get the federal government to do that now," Miller said.
The state also should promote agricultural products as made in Montana, especially Montana beef and lamb, he said.
"Meat and all products, but particularly meat, would sell very well" worldwide, Miller said.
Miller said the state also needs to promote manufacturing. While people seem to think manufacturing is dying out, small manufacturers are providing jobs in many communities, and the state needs to help that, he said.
Cutting the state business equipment tax from 12 percent to 3 percent has helped manufacturing, but more needs to be done, Miller said.