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Hill discusses Hi-Line issues: 4 for 2, Amtrak, water system

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill talked about some issues specific to the Hi-Line this week in an interview with the Havre Daily News.

Hill was in Havre Wednesday in between touring the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System and making stops in Shelby and then Whitefish. He said he has a personal interest in the water system, which came out of the water compact of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, which Hill helped pass while a member of Congress in the 1990s.

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 said he continues to support the Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System project, and said it is an example of his desire to improve infrastructure in the state, especially in the rural portions of eastern Montana.

"I have a pretty strong commitment to infrastructure investment, " Hill said. "If we want to get more diversity into our rural economies, we have to have that infrastructure. "

While he said he and his campaign are working on the details of his plan to improve infrastructure investment, he said he wants to expand the Treasure State Endowment Program as one way to increase the state's ability to help with projects.

Hill said he also supports making improvements to U. S. Highway 2 and other highways in the state, although he came short of endorsing the 4 for 2 proposal to widen the highway to four lanes across the state.

"I'm going to make sure that our transportation budget is spent to address transportation needs where they arise, " he said, adding, "There are certain areas, I think, along on Highway 2 where we need to take into account the need for adequate capacity, and I'm going to be supportive of that. "

He said the focus should be in areas with increasing traffic such as near the oil developments on the Bakken Formation — Hill said he has committed to continuing the project to expand the highway from the North Dakota border west — and with higher population centers like Havre.

"I think that we have to

be prepared to make sure we have an adequate transportation system to accommodate the increased traffic that we're experiencing, but I think that decision has to be driven on the basis of demand as opposed to other considerations, " Hill said.

He said he believes that Amtrak is important to the state, especially along the Hi-Line, but funding the national passenger rail service is a matter for Congress, not the governor.

But, Hill added, he believes that Montanans need to be prepared for changes as the federal government tries to get the budget deficit under control. Congress cannot continue to spend trillions more than the nation is taking in, he said.

"If they don't discipline themselves, the market is going to discipline them and us pretty severely, I fear, " Hill said. "In that context, we've got to be preparing, here in Montana, for what could be difficult consequences as Congress starts getting its fiscal house in order. "

He noted that Montana receives large amounts of funding from Washington.

"We're going to have to make sure that we're sorting through what works and doesn't work, and what's effective and not effective, to deal with what's likely to come in the not-too-distant future, and my guess is Amtrak is going to be part of that equation, " he said.

Hill also said he supports the work Montana State University-Northern does in preparing students for jobs.

He said that, while he is not yet committed to any particular projects that were proposed in the state bonding bill that included a new building for Northern's automotive and diesel technology programs — which failed to pass in the 2011 Legislature — if a building is needed, the state should build it.

He said that a proposal to use part of the state ending fund balance — which has kept increasing and now is more than $400 million, rather than the Legislature's goal of $150 million — to pay for state buildings rather than bonding for them might make sense.

And, while he said he is not yet endorsing any specific building project, the work done in the automotive and diesel programs at Northern is impressive.

"I'm a big fan of it and very supportive of what you're doing here, " Hill said. "I think its well noted that graduates that come out of that program don't have difficulty finding good-paying jobs. … You're preparing people for more jobs, and better-paying jobs, and I congratulate Northern for its work. "

He said he also supports continuing research such as is being done at Northern into alternative energy sources like biodiesel and renewable jet fuel.

"I support the development of all forms of energy. The one thing that Montana has that gives what we call, in economic terms, a comparative advantage in the world is energy, " he said. "There certainly is potential, and I think we should continue to invest in research for biodiesel. "

Hill said he supports the development of all forms of energy.

"As governor, I'm going to embrace the potential that energy development has for Montana's future over the long term, " he said. "Part of that needs to be a commitment to engaging in research that will help us be competitive over the long term, not just the short term. "


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