Ron Ehli, a small business owner from Hamilton, is a Republican candidate for House District 88. His challenger is Marlin Foss, a Republican candidate from Hamilton. The following are his responses to a questionnaire from the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic.
1.What role should local and state governments play in economic development?
It is important to understand that governments only role in economic development should be an effort to allow private industry to prosper. Those efforts come in the form of avoiding unnecessary regulations and burdensome taxes. In addition, government should not provide financial assistance to private industry which in effect is allowing government to choose winners and losers. If allowed its own genius, without the burdens of government intervention, private industry can and should drive economic development.
2.What legislative actions do you favor to improve Montana’s economy and create jobs here?
The 62nd legislative session was successful in passing legislation to enhance business climate that will eventually lead to improvement in Montana’s economy and the creation of jobs in the private sector of Montana. A few examples of that legislation were a reduction in workman compensation rates, a reduction in the business equipment tax, and changes in the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). There is plenty of changes still needed. If we can continue down the road to a more business friendly climate in Montana, many jobs can be created, most specifically in the development of our natural resources. Unlocking the doors to natural resource development will then also add thousands of support jobs to the Montana economy.
3.Montana now has a projected general fund budget surplus of $427 million as of mid-2013. What, if anything, do you think the 2013 Legislature should do with this money?
First and foremost, we need to understand that the number is a “projected” budget surplus and it is for the year 2013. It has the potential to be less, or possibly greater, depending on many factors, with the economy probably being the main driver of where we end up. If a surplus actually materializes, the legislature needs to think about the potential $3 billion shortfall in the pension funds that are not actuarially sound. It is unfortunate, but a fact, that the State of Montana will probably end up shoring up the pension funds with cash from the general fund. Lastly, I think we can all be assured of the long list of financial needs not currently being met that will be presented in the next legislative session. I would want to make sure we do not fund long term programs with one time budget surpluses.
4.What is your opinion of current DUI laws and legislation? Would you change anything? Be specific.
The citizens in the last legislative cycle insisted that something needed to be done to curb the DUI offender with multiple offenses. The new 24/7 sobriety program passed in the last legislative session and administered by the Department of Justice should go far in curbing that abuse by offenders with multiple DUI’s. As a program designed with sobriety testing twice a day, it will allow law enforcement to make sure of the sobriety of the offender each and every day. Although it is an optional program for Counties and the Sheriff, I believe as it grows, and law enforcement see the success of such a program, it has the potential to spread across the State.
5. Do you think the Legislature needs to intervene in the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Departments wildlife management activity? If so, what would you propose?
It is not the job of the legislature to intervene in the day to day management of the Montana FWP. In addition, the legislature needs to be careful to not create laws and propose changes based on personal, emotional, or economic reasons. Managing Montana FWP is its own director, and above that director is the Governor. They should be managing wildlife in the State of Montana, for the people of Montana, using scientifically set goals and objectives. If the Montana FWP scientific goals and objectives are not being met within its own organization, then it is the management of that organization that may need to be changed.
6. When the University of Montana seeks funding for its College of Technology expansion, will you support its request? Why or why not?
Last session’s $98 million bonding bill contained requests for 10 capital improvement projects across Montana, including U of M’s COT expansion. Unfortunately, it was denied because of the uncertainty of the economic climate at the time. The U of M COT expansion now has chosen to go it alone for State funding, but I am certain other capital project requests from across the State, that were part of the original bonding bill, will follow. As a legislature, we must consider all requests for funding and, in that light, I would certainly consider the University of Montana’s College of Technology expansion request and expect it to be close to the top of the priority list.