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GOP unveils bill proposing $80M in bonds for state, local building projects in Montana

Posted at 7:07 PM, Mar 11, 2019

HELENA – Republicans at the Legislature Monday introduced a plan to use nearly $80 million in bonds to finance state and local infrastructure projects in Montana over the next two years – including most of the $32 million renovation of Romney Hall on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman.

House Bill 652, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, also includes money for major building projects in Butte, Great Falls and Warm Springs; nearly 80 local water, wastewater, bridge and reclamation projects; grants for projects in towns impacted by natural-resource development; and grants for school maintenance and construction.

Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, the sponsor of HB652

HB652 is the scaled-back, GOP alternative to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s $160 million bonding proposal for infrastructure. Its first hearing is scheduled Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee.

Tom Livers, the governor’s budget director, told MTN News Monday the governor’s office is “taking a close look at the proposal,” but is pleased to see a Republican-sponsored bill that includes state borrowing to finance infrastructure.

“Gov. Bullock has put forward a comprehensive infrastructure package that addresses the needs in communities across the state, and we look forward to working with the Legislature to make sure we are addressing those needs this session,” he said.

In the past several legislative sessions, a bloc of conservative Republican lawmakers has killed infrastructure bills that include state borrowing.

Any bill that issues state debt, through bonds, requires approval of at least two-thirds of each house of the Legislature. Enough Republican lawmakers have objected in past sessions to prevent a two-thirds majority on infrastructure bonding bills.

The nearly $80 million in bonds authorized by HB652 would finance projects that include:

• Renovation of Romney Hall into more classroom space at MSU. The $32 million project has been a priority for the university system for several years. Under HB652, $25 million of the cost would be funded by bonds and the remainder by private funds.

• A new armory in Butte. Bonding would cover $5 million of the $22 million project; federal funds would pay for the remainder.

• Sewer replacement at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, for $4.5 million.

• A new dental clinic and laboratory for the dental hygiene program at MSU-Great Falls, at $4.25 million.

• Twenty-five water, wastewater and sewer projects in local communities for a total of $9.6 million. The projects would normally be financed by the Treasure State Endowment program.

• Forty grants that for local irrigation and water projects, totaling $5 million.

• Another $4.25 million for seven local bridge projects and five reclamation projects.

• A new grant program for local governments impacted by natural-resource development, such as oil and gas, totaling $7 million.

• Another $7 million to finance grants for local school construction and maintenance. The money is the state share for an existing program that is temporarily short of funds.

Bullock’s proposal, contained in HB14, also financed many of the local projects contained in HB652.

Hopkins also noted that some of the projects in HB14 that are not included in his bill would be financed by separate measures that spend available cash for infrastructure.