By Martin Kidston
The state’s Republican candidate for governor introduced himself to a Missoula audience on Monday, outlining his plans to tackle infrastructure, create high-paying jobs and reduce the regulations he believes are hindering the state’s economic prosperity.
Greg Gianforte, whose running to unseat incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, spoke at length about launching his successful Bozeman business, RightNow Technologies, and applying the lessons he learned as an entrepreneur to help grow the state’s economy.
“I believe jobs are only created in the private sector, and the private sector is created by entrepreneurs,” Gianforte told attendees at a gathering of City Club Missoula. “If we’re going to solve Montana’s economic issues, we need to encourage more entrepreneurship.”
To do so, Gianforte said the state can do more to foster success by reducing regulations, streamlining state agencies to provide faster outcomes, and eliminating the business equipment tax.
He said many states don’t have a tax on business equipment, placing Montana at a disadvantage.
“I particularly think this business equipment tax is the most regressive tax we have,” Gianforte said. “It chases job-creating dollars out of the state. The tax is now less than 2 percent of our state revenue. It’s one thing I would eliminate.”
During a campaign stop in Missoula back in January, Gianforte said he would also appoint a business owner to run the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and a landowner to head the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
He maintained that position on Monday when asked for specifics on his economic plan.
“We can responsibly develop natural resources,” he said. “But in the absence of a very specific outcome, the (DEQ) just keeps asking for more information. We need someone in charge of DEQ who will actually process a permit, yes or no, in a reasonable amount of time.”
Gianforte also criticized Bullock on several fronts, including the Legislature’s failure to pass an infrastructure bill during each of the last two sessions. Efforts to reach a compromise bill last year fell one vote shy of passing.
Bullock has said that a handful of conservative Republicans broke from their party to kill last year’s bill. Gianforte, however, placed the blame on Bullock, saying he failed to compromise.
Gianforte said he wasn’t opposed to bonding essential projects – an approach attempted last year by Bullock. He said he would also tap the Coal Tax Trust Fund to provide long-term funding to address ongoing infrastructure needs.
“Our revenues have fallen off the cliff in the state, really due to the anti-business policies of the current administration,” Gianforte said. “I’m not opposed to using bonding for some essential infrastructure. We might have to given the revenue picture that we have.”
Last week, Bullock signed an executive order promoting equal pay for equal work. He also has launched an Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force in an effort to close the wage gap between men and women.
Two of the three bills proposed by Bullock’s task force during the last Legislature failed to pass, including the Paycheck Fairness Act. Gianforte said he supported equal pay, so long as it didn’t place additional mandates on businesses.
“We should be working for equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcomes,” Gianforte said. “If there was a piece of legislation that could actually help women in the workforce and did not place an undue burden on businesses, I would sign it. We need to see what the Legislature comes up with.”
Gianforte said that while he sympathized with refugees, he would ultimately close refugee resettlement in Montana. The move stands in opposition to a grass-roots effort in Missoula to accommodate refugees fleeing war, famine and political persecution in other countries.
“I think we have a moral obligation to help, but I don’t think it includes settling them (refugees) in our communities,” Gianforte said. “Many states have withdrawn from the federal program, and I think the safety of Montanans come first. We have to recognize we’re at war. I would close refugee resettlement here in Montana.”
Gianforte was also asked by an audience member if he would defund Planned Parenthood if elected to office. He said he had no specific goals on the issue.
“I am pro life, I’ll be very clear about that,” said Gianforte. “I think life is precious from conception all the way through natural death, and I’ll defend life in this state.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org