HELENA — For the first time in several legislative sessions, an infrastructure bonding bill has passed the Montana House, authorizing nearly $80 million in state debt to finance scores of building projects, big and small, across the state.
The House voted 68-30 on Friday for House Bill 652, which now heads to the Senate.
The big-ticket items authorized in the bill include the $32 million renovation of Romney Hall on the Montana State University campus — a project the college has been trying for years to get approved — a $22 million armory in Butte, a $4.5 million sewer replacement at the Montana State Hospital and a $4.25 million new dental hygiene lab and clinic at MSU-Great Falls.
The Romney Hall and armory projects are not funded entirely with state debt. The bill authorized $16 million in bonds and $9 million in state cash for Romney Hall; MSU will have to raise the additional $7 million to complete the project. The Butte armory project will be funded with $5 million in state bonds and $17 million in federal money.
Bonding bills, which issue state debt, need approval by at least two-thirds of both the House and Senate. For the past several sessions, a conservative bloc of Republicans in the House has killed the major construction bonding bill for the state.
But on Friday, 27 Republicans joined 41 Democrats to vote for HB652, pushing it past the two-thirds threshold. Twenty-nine Republicans and one Democrat voted against it.
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, HB652 authorizes the state to issue $79.85 million in bonds to finance a broad array of building projects. In addition to the projects mentioned above, they include:
• In two accounts, $21.5 million is set aside for communities impacted by natural-resource development. The money will be distributed through grants authorized by the state Department of Commerce. Half of the money goes to an account dedicated to local-government projects; the other half will fund school projects.
• About $9.6 million for 26 local water and wastewater projects, with grants ranging in size from $200,000 to $750,000. Nearly all of the projects are in smaller communities.
• Nearly $5 million for 40 local water and irrigation projects, with grants at $125,000 each.
• For deferred maintenance at state buildings, including the Capitol complex, $5 million.
• Almost $3 million to help finance seven local bridge projects.
• An expenditure of $1.3 million to repair a water line at Makoshika State Park near Glendive.
• About $1.25 million for five local mine and waste-site reclamation projects.
• Two appropriations of $750,000 — one to repair the Dawson County regional prison in Glendive and one to restore historic properties in Virginia City and Nevada City.
The bill has its first hearing in the Senate next Tuesday.