By Ron VandenBoom
Rob Natelson, Republican candidate for governor, said he wants to change the structure of the Montana University System and make each school independent.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 people at a North Central Montana Pachyderm meeting on Friday, Natelson said each campus of the system would be self-governing if he had his way.
Natelson said he was against the unification of the university system back in 1994 and testified against it at that time.
"Campuses should be able to serve the community they're in and not be subject to the mandate of the system," he said.
Natelson added that the system today suffers from "trickle down education," with the money going from the general fund through the Board of Regents down to the universities and then the campuses and the various departments with very little actually getting to the students.
He advocated a system where the money is used to fund scholarships for the students rather than more administration.
"The Board of Regents should serve as kind of a consumer protection agency," he said.
Returning money and power to the local level is also the basis of Natelson's economic development program.
"Montana is by any measure a big government state," he told the crowd. "And the record is clear, big government states tend not to grow as well or as fast as small government states."
He said his opponents, both Republican and Democrat, have been talking about using Montana's $140 million budget surplus on government and economic development programs that don't work.
"We've had that for 30 years," he said.
He decried that Judy Martz's proposed economic development program known as Jobs and Opportunities for a Better State (JOBS), is, in fact, nothing but a revised economic development plan originally put forward by former governor Tom Judge.
He characterized it as "more government spending on big government programs that didn't work then and won't work now."
"We certainly cannot spend our way into prosperity," he said. "If that were the case, the communist countries would have been the richest in the world."
Natelson, who referred to himself as a Reagan Republican, advocated returning the budget surplus to the people and removing excessive taxes and regulations that hinder economic development.
"They trust government," he said about his opponents. "We want to give it back to you because we trust you."
He noted that among other tax relief that is spreading across the country, 29 states lowered their property taxes just last year alone. "But Montana is still not getting the message," he said.
Reading from a document he said he down-loaded off of the South Dakota government website, Natelson quoted its governor telling businesses to come to South Dakota, because "we have no corporate income tax, no personal income tax, no personal property tax, and no business inventory tax."
"That's our competition," Natelson said. "Who do you think he (the governor) is directing it at?"
Noting that the governor of South Dakota is probably a great guy, Natelson said that under a Natelson/Keating administration, "Montana's going to beat your socks off."
Natelson also struck out at what he called "excessive regulation" on the part of state government.
"It's not just the problem of excess regulation," he said. "It's the attitude with which those regulations are enforced."
He noted that regulators don't have to treat Montanans as if they were the enemy and added that, if elected, he would issue a directive from his office to that effect.