By BOB ANEZ/AP Political Writer
HELENA - When it comes to tuning Montana's economy, the six major gubernatorial candidates have plenty of ideas. But few offer a yardstick by which voters can measure the success of those ideas.
In response to questions by The Associated Press about their plans for economic improvement, the candidates came up with a potpourri of proposals. The list ranges from repealing key environmental laws and enacting a sales tax to impeaching wayward judges and transforming Montana into a Mecca for hydrogen power.
While the contenders all talked of creating more jobs - sometimes hundreds more - and encouraging more investment in the state, only two responded to a request to provide any method for Montanans to gauge progress.
Democrat John Vincent of Bozeman said that, after his first four-year term, the state's economic grade by various national financial publications will be no worse than a B. Montana typically has received grades of C or worse in such reports.
Republican Pat Davison of Billings expects lower unemployment and a net increase in jobs by the end of his first term. However, he did not set targets for either economic measure or acknowledge that some job growth in Montana is certain simply because of population growth.
Each candidate was asked for three specific actions they would take as governor to create some ''measurable'' improvements in the economy and to explain the improvements.
The candidates were given 10 days to respond. All but Republican Bob Brown met that deadline.
Republican Tom Keating of Billings, a former state senator and oilman, offered one of the most dramatic remedies for Montana's poor economy by recommending elimination of the Montana Environmental Policy Act and the Major Facility Siting Act.
Conservation interests have used those environmental laws as the basis for court challenges to block development such as power plants, oil and gas drilling, and mining, he said. Repeal, he predicted, will mean greater investment and more jobs linked to production and processing of natural resources.
Keating said his third move would be repeal of a 1998 ban on the use of cyanide in new gold mines.
Fellow Republican Ken Miller of Laurel, also a former state senator, faulted the court system and its judges for Montana's myriad problems, including its lackluster economy.
''I have come to realize that at the core of nearly every concern is a decision by a zealot judge that has assumed the role of legislating,'' he wrote.
Miller vowed a campaign as governor to remove judges who, in his view, have gone too far in their rulings. Impeachment should an option in such cases, he said.
But Miller also said he would block any efforts to reverse recent individual and business tax relief, limit government's budget growth based on Montanans' income and population increases, and create a rainy day fund for when tax collections come up short.
Brown's economic measures include his plan, announced last year, to divert the $15 million annual deposits into the coal tax trust and use the money to help pay for public works projects. He believes the money can be used to attract millions more in federal aid, creating jobs and updating aging infrastructure.
Brown, who is secretary of state, also suggested Montanans could be encouraged to save more money if the tax exemption for savings interest is increased from $800 to $1,000 for the elderly and a similar tax break given to all residents.
He proposed increasing opportunities for two-year education, but didn't say how he would do it.
Davison said his economic plan includes tax breaks for investment in new or expanded businesses, a lower tax on capital gains from the sale of property owned more than five years, increased timber cutting, and development of federal coal tracts given to the state.
The Billings business consultant unveiled those proposals last month.
Vincent, a Gallatin County commissioner and former legislator, advocated a statewide sales tax, with half the money used to eliminate state property taxes and half dedicated to education and job training.
His other two ideas were more sketchy. He promised a state budget that won't shortchange needed investment in economic growth, and spending on such existing programs as tax breaks for new or expanding businesses, job training, technology, capital formation and public-private partnerships.
Democrat Brian Schweitzer's plan for development of a ''hydrogen economy'' was the most novel of all the ideas.
Montana's rich supply of the platinum, a key component in building hydrogen fuel cells, and healthy reserves of coal make Montana the ideal place for hydrogen power production, he said. The state also has limestone deposits for storing the carbon after it is separated from hydrogen in the coal, he added.
''Montana has the chance to lead the nation in creating a hydrogen economy,'' Schweitzer said. ''Tomorrow's leaders in hydrogen power research and development will be to energy what Detroit is today to the automobile industry.''
He also wants to encourage ethanol production by passing a law requiring state-owned vehicles to use fuel that contains at least 10 percent ethanol. In addition to the fuel, ethanol plants would produce a byproduct cattle feed that could lead to feedlots opening nearby, Schweitzer said.
His third proposal is creation of an office dedicated to attracting investment money for new businesses in Montana.