By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Four Republican candidates for governor said Sunday they support widening U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes but a lack of funds would keep them from making it a priority project.
Bob Brown, who is currently secretary of state, said Highway 2 is important to the region and widening it would help the economy.
"But I can't stand here and promise I can get it done, especially in a four-year term," he said. "I'm open to it, but I can't stand here and promise I can make it happen."
Brown and fellow candidates Pat Davison, Ken Miller and Tom Keating, all of Billings, were in Havre for the annual Hill County Lincoln Day Dinner. They were asked to make a short speech about what they could do to help the Havre area, focusing on the effort to widen Highway 2 to four lanes across the state.
The 2001 Legislature passed a bill directing the Montana Department of Transportation to seek money from Congress to widen the highway.
Keating and Miller both said Montana doesn't have a lot of money to put into widening Highway 2, and suggested that increasing the harvesting of natural resources would give the state more money that it could put toward it and other projects.
"I think over time it will be done," Keating said. "I'm not opposed to it. I won't be giving it a high priority."
Davison said the state needs to pursue what opportunities it can to develop the economy, including widening the highway, but said there isn't much money to widen the highway now.
Brown said a study done for the state said the economic benefits of widening Highway 2 wouldn't outweigh the costs of construction. But a four-lane Highway 2 probably would help the economy, he said.
The four candidates all said the state has to stimulate the economy to provide a larger tax base, paying for projects and possibly allowing tax reductions.
Brown cited his support for alternative energy, including a four-stop workshop he sponsored about wind power, as a way to spur the economy. That would not solve all of Montana's economic problems, but it would help, he said.
Davison, Miller and Keating all said increasing development of Montana's natural resources is necessary to help the economy.
Davison said Montanans have a history of being good stewards of the land, and should be able to harvest coal, gas and timber while continuing to be good stewards.
The Havre area would benefit from increased oil and gas production and the revenue it produces, he said. The state should also ensure that Montana State University-Northern grows and expands programs like the diesel technology program and partnerships with businesses like Toyota, he said.
Another key to improving the economic health of the region is strengthening Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's connection to the area, and increasing its investment here, he said.
The state government also has to work with the congressional delegation to make sure laws are not passed that hurt the state, he added.
For example, he said, "CRP was not a good friend for Havre."
Keating said regulations preventing development of natural resource industries have dropped Montana from having the 18th highest per capita income in the United States a few decades ago to having the 49th per capita income.
He said repealing regulations like the Montana Environmental Protection Act, the Major Facility Siting Act and the ban on cyanide heap-leach mining would allow the economy to grow once again. The clean air and clean water acts, and requirements that the land be restored after projects, are completed are enough to protect the environment, he said.
Miller cited several issues that could help the Havre area, including the plan to rebuild the St. Mary Diversion, which supplies water to the Milk River, and creating a system to identify agricultural products as grown in Montana.