Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill listed some of his top issues in an interview this morning.
They include: improving job creation by making Montana more business-friendly, working to improve water, sewer and transportation infrastructure, and changing how the state spends revenue from natural resource development, especially to change education funding and reduce property and income taxes.
Hill, who was in Havre in between touring the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System and stopping in Chester before heading to Shelby and then Whitefish, tied those and other issues together.
“Our whole campaign is about how do we get more better-paying jobs in Montana, ” he said.
Hill is running with his lieutenant governor candidate Jon Sonju against state Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate, and his running mate, John Walsh, and Libertarian candidates Ron Vandevender and Marc Mulcahy.
Hill tied together what to do with the higher-than-expected ending fund balance from the last Legislature and education funding, saying he wants to use money coming from oil and gas development and other natural resources development including coal, but the state needs to be careful about spending money that could be from one-time sources.
The 2011 Legislature passed a budget that would have left the state an ending fund balance of about $150 million, but estimates of the revenue have continued to increase with more than $400 million expected for the ending fund balance now.
Hill said the state should try to have a surplus to take care of unexpected needs — such as battling floods last year and fighting fires this year.
“Having a little money in our savings account is a good thing, ” Hill said.
But for money that will continue to come in ahead of state expense, he said, he wants to use that for education funding.
“That would lower property taxes and benefit all Montanans, ” he said, adding, “That would be permanent tax relief. ”
He said he is not advocating a sales tax.
“I don’t think we need a sales tax, ” Hill said.
He said the state first needs to encourage energy and natural resource development, then deploy the revenue from that development to reduce property and income taxes.
A key is making the state more attractive for business development and investment, which will produce jobs, Hill said.
Part of that is improving Montana’s regulatory and legal structure, both of which are rated very poorly by most business analysis, he said.
“We have to streamline how how we regulate, and we have to get our legal climate more towards the mainstream so its less hostile to business and less hostile to investment, ” Hill said.
He said he was aware of a U. S. Chamber of Commerce analysis of states that listed Montana between first and seventh in the nation in 13 categories listed, and from 11th to 25th in eight other categories, but added that the categories where Montana was the most poorly ranked are among the most important for attracting business and investment.
Infrastructure, especially in regard to population increases in eastern Montana tied to energy development in the Bakken formation, is a priority, Hill said.
He said helping with aging water and sewer infrastructure, and increased needs, along with improving transportation infrastructure, is a key component of economic development.
Hill said one idea he supports is expanding the Treasure State Endowment Program, used to help local governments pay for infrastructure projects.
His campaign soon will be releasing details, which still are being worked out, on his full proposals, he said.
“It’s an important part of laying the foundation for economic development, ” Hill said.