Former State Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch is working to set himself apart from the Schweitzer Administration he used to work under, as well as the other Republicans vying for the governor’s seat.
Lynch said operating the state more like a business can spur economic growth.
He said he plans to bring to Helena the same business-sense he used when coming to the Flathead in the 1980’s to take over an excavation, sand and gravel business.
Lynch said you can turn the economy around without looking for new resources or taxes but by creating efficiencies.
He said the state can operate more like a business by hiring people based on qualifications, not politics, and treating the residents like customers, “and when you do that, you’ll turn this state around, you’ll find tremendous economic opportunities in the state of Montana. Businesses will want to come here and develop, manufacturing facilities will want to start up, natural resources development in eastern Montana will take place,” Lynch said. “That’s how you create a business atmosphere, an open-for-business attitude, so to speak, in the state of Montana.”
Lynch said creating that atmosphere has to start at the top with the Governor. While many of the G-O-P candidates say Montana’s tax structure and environmental regulations have hindered development in the Baaken Oil Fields, Lynch said the state is competitive. He said there are three differences between Montana and North Dakota when it comes to this development. The first is geography – where the oil is located, the infrastructure to handle the industry, and the attitude of regulators. Lynch said there’s nothing to be done about the first, but the governor can affect the other two factors.
“We make the investment in the infrastructure, we make the change in the attitude of state regulators, and we will develop natural resources in Eastern Montana in a way that is environmentally acceptable and will also complement the agricultural community that’s working with it side-by-side,” Lynch said these investments in infrastructure include roads, storm water systems, and social infrastructure like law enforcement and school systems.
Lynch said he can eliminate the business equipment tax which he calls a revenue grab. He also wants to move the cost of K-12 education off of property taxes, “that doesn’t mean we’re not going to fund K-12 education, and you can do that in a lot of areas, the immediate area to start working on is just efficiencies in state government,” Lynch said.
He gives as an example a plan he used at the Department of Transportation that looked at consolidating jobs and not filling positions as people retire. He said they were on track to reduce employees in the Department by 20%. He said that’s a reduction of about $40-million in one department just in wages and benefits.
“If you apply that same principle, and I know you can, and we will, across state government, we’re talking at over 2-hundred-million-dollars in just wages and benefits and pension contributions. That is significant money, and that’s the efficiencies you can create, and start creating right away. You don’t need legislation to do it, that’s all within the realms of a governor managing those executive branch agencies,” Lynch said.
Lynch said higher education as well as K-12 needs to be adequately funded, but he’d like to see some of the same business principles brought into higher education to increase efficiency and decrease costs. He said his experience in the private sector running a business plus his experience as Director of the Department of Transportation are advantages he has over the other G-O-P candidates.
Lynch worked under Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, until his abrupt resignation last August. “We had political differences. You know, I was decreasing employees; that’s not a Democrat thing to do. I was permitting high-wide loads through Western Montana; that’s not a Democrat thing to do,” Lynch said.
Lynch describes himself as pro-life and does not support gay marriage. He said he does not agree with the death penalty. However, he said as governor he would be bound to uphold Montana law, which allows for capital punishment.