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Gubernatorial Candidates Call Infrastructure Funding Critically Important For Montana

Jackie Yamanaka

Both of the major candidates in Montana’s gubernatorial race agree infrastructure funding is important for the state and its citizens.

Governor Steve Bullock announced his plan for the 2017 Legislative Session during a stop in Billings.

The Democrat says this proposal melds together ideas negotiated with the Republican majority in the 2015 session that narrowly failed.

“Don’t forget this bill (SB 416) passed 47-3 in the Senate last time and died by one vote a year ago today,” Bullock says. “So most folks got it. It was a small handful of legislators who stood in the way of getting this thing done for the entire state.”

This time Bullock proposes budgeting $200 million for infrastructure in a yet to be determined mix of cash and bonds.

He also calls for allowing to sunset the infusion of Coal Severance Tax funding for the Treasure State Endowment Program and the Rural Water Projects. Instead that money would flow into a new infrastructure fund Bullock calls the Build Montana Trust.

He says infrastructure is too important to die in 2017 because of political gamesmanship.

Bullock’s likely Republican opponent in the fall election is Greg Gianforte. The Bozeman businessman says it’s Bullock who’s playing political games.

“At the end of the day there is one leader here in the state and that’s the governor,” Gianforte says. “The reality is infrastructure did not get approved in the ’15 Session and the governor has to be responsible for that outcome.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” says Bullock. “I was more than willing and did a lot of work to say what is a bipartisan measure here that could get this across the finish line. It was only a small handful who stood in the way of getting this done.”

Infrastructure became a political football during the 2015 session. Some GOP lawmakers said they had a philosophical opposition to bonding as they didn’t want to pass debt on to future generations.

Gianforte says he doesn’t have a philosophical opposition to bonding.

“If we have cash I believe we should use cash. If we need to borrow money we should borrow money,” he says. “But we have an obligation to come alongside these communities and help ‘em.”

When asked for his plan, Gianforte did not outline any specifics other than to say, “Well I would actually show up.”

“We need to put infrastructure in and we need to prioritize water, sewer, bridges and roads,” Gianforte says. “It’s nice to have amenities like history museums and gymnasiums but I would put core infrastructure ahead of some of those other things.”

It’s a reference to objections raised by some lawmakers during the 2015 session. Some lawmakers opposed to the projects identified for infrastructure funding by the Bullock administration that would pay for improvements and an expansion for the Montana Historical Society. There was also funding to renovate Romney Gymnasium at Montana State University for classrooms and other student services.

This issue is bigger than just the gubernatorial candidates. It trickles down to the state’s legislative races as the lawmakers elected in November will also have a say when they take their seats next January at the state Capitol in Helena.