Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said Tuesday he thinks some clear differences have arisen between him and his Republican opponent, former U. S. Rep. Rick Hill.
“I think just as a general standpoint, too, we really have a different view of what the future of Montana looks like, ” Bullock said in an interview after the open house at the Montana State University-Northern Bio-Energy Center Advanced Fuel Center. “He goes around the state saying how bad things are. There’s actually some great things going on in Montana, and I want to improve on that. ”
Bullock and Hill also face Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ron Vandevender in the Nov. 6 election.
Bullock said the campaigns has shown many specific differences between him and Hill, including their view on public education.
Bullock said, for example, Hill believes Montana’s teachers are the second-worst in the nation, while he does not.
Hill was quoted July 10 in Stevensville’s Bitterroot Star as saying Montana is second-to-last in quality of teachers, adding that he believes that has more to do with the system than individual teachers and that problems of seniority and questions of tenure need to be addressed.
But Bullock said that comment illustrates a difference in perspective.
“Congressman Hill has said we have the second-worst teachers in the nation and how we actually improve education is by having charter schools and tax credits for private schools, ” Bullock said. “I think that that’s a big difference between he and I. I think our public education system is good, so we improve it by investing in it, not by defunding and devaluing it. ”
Bullock said the same difference in perspective is true of Montana’s economic future.
“I mean here we sit in an incredible (advanced fuel) center that could provide opportunities for decades ahead, ” he said. “The congressman essentially said a number of things, one of which is that he wants to give significant tax cuts to out-of-state corporations and that our economy will only be what it was 50 years ago. ”
Bullock said he wants to focus on small businesses, and that he has proposed tax cuts for 11,000 of those businesses, noting that 97 percent of Montana businesses have 50 or fewer employees.
Bullock also is proposing using part of the ending fund balance from the last legislative session — now tagged at more than $450 million — to give a $400 property tax refund to homeowners.
“Rick Hill has said he’ll cut property taxes, he’ll get rid of the business equipment tax, he said our tax rates are overall too high and the only thing that would leave is a sales tax, ” Bullock said. “He’s gone back and forth on that in the campaign. I would veto a sales tax. ”
Bullock said his own jobs plan also supports “responsibly (developing our natural) resources, but let’s also look at everything else that Montana could become.
“When we look at agriculture, 85 percent of what we grow is shipped out without any additional value-added efforts, ” he said. “(Let’s) keep more of the food dollars here to create more opportunities, to provide jobs for people. ”
Bullock said he would continue as governor to work on some issues he pushed forward as attorney general, citing efforts running from drinking and driving to prescription drug regulation and adding a position to the consumer protection bureau specifically working to ensure farmers and ranchers are treated fairly in the market.
“Even in that difficult legislative time I got all my legislative initiatives through by working together (with the legislators), ” Bullock said.
He said he would continue his focus on another issue — the impacts of the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to make political campaign contributions.
While rulings on cases Bullock argued have gone against Montana’s corporate contribution laws — although the federal 9th Circuit Court Tuesday stopped unlimited contribution amounts in Montana until it rules in an appeal on that issue — he said that Montana might be able to take action, especially on issues of disclosure, because corporations are regulated under state law.
“I think it’s frustrating and people across the state are frustrated by the amount of noise and negative ads …, ” Bullock said. “No one in my travels said we need more undisclosed corporate dollars in our elections. ”
Disclosure laws, showing who is contributing, would help, he said.
“To know who’s actually … the wizard behind the curtain putting all this money in, because right now we don’t know, ” Bullock said. “It’s just ‘Americans for Apple Pie. ’”
Bullock said he is waiting to make a decision on whether the state should opt in on the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, although the one thing people do know is that medical costs are continuing to go up and the “the insurance companies are jacking up rates. ” But the details on Medicaid expansion still are lacking.
“The Supreme Court’s decision came down and the feds still haven’t done their job of saying here are the possibilities for waivers, here are the possibilities for a Montana-made solution …, ” Bullock said. “Once the rules come out, we can look and make what I say is a Montana-made solution. Other states have taken Medicaid waivers and created something that works for them, so it’s something I will look at but (I will wait) until we see the rules of the road from the feds, to see what opportunities we have to tailor it to make sure that it doesn’t bust our budget and that it actually is providing good care for folks, then we’ll make that decision. ”
He said another focus of his campaign is increasing outdoor-recreation access.
“One of the great things about Montana, and I come up around here (on the Hi-Line) as part of my hunting trip, is that the ability to enjoy our outdoors doesn’t depend on the size of our wallet, ” Bullock said. “It’s something that we all treasure and I’m going to promote opportunities for additional public access and preserve our stream access laws. ”
He added that, when asked, Hill wouldn’t say whether he would have vetoed one of the bills Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed last session, which “would have restricted our stream access. ”
He said Schweitzer set a new record in vetoes last session, including using his infamous “VETO” branding iron, beating the old state record of 19 vetoes with a new tally of 79.
“I certainly want to work with people across the aisle, but I certainly won’t hesitate to hold firm where we need to, ” Bullock said. “I don’t know if it will be a veto brand. It might be a Bic pen, but either way we need to focus on moving Montana forward. ”