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Familiar Infrastructure Ideas Return to 2017 Session

Jackie Yamanaka

There was a bit of déjà vu surrounding a bill that seeks to use coal tax money to pay for crumbling public works and state buildings.

“I think the bill is familiar to many of us,” said Dan Villa, Governor Steve Bullock’s budget director.

It’s a reference to the failed Senate Bill 353 from the 2015 session. SB 353, sponsored by Republican Senator Rick Ripley, used “create Build Montana program” in its title.

Senate Bill 88, known as the Build Montana Trust, is part of the Democratic Bullock Administration’s proposal to create a long-term solution to funding infrastructure.

That led leading some to call SB 88 the 2.0 version of SB 353.

In the 2017 session, the Bullock Administration is promoting the idea of diverting coal tax dollars headed for the trust’s existing bond fund into a new Coal Tax Sub-trust.  Once that new fund hits $50 million, lawmakers could spend the interest earned on infrastructure projects.

Villa said a lot of work needs to be done on this and the numerous other infrastructure bills working their way through the legislative process.

“We understand there will have to be a significant level of give and take,” he said. “But we certainly want to make sure that our commitment is expressed to you through proposals and our ongoing negotiations to get an infrastructure package across the finish line.”

While legislators and the governor agree they want to fix crumbling bridges, school buildings, and pay for some other public works and building projects across the state they disagree over the details. Clashes have come over specific projects, but the main rub has been over how to pay for them – use cash on hand or borrow by issuing bonds.

Last session, the major infrastructure bill died by one vote in the House – it’s final stop - largely due to politics. That failure lead lawmakers to throw up their hands and adjourn.

During the hearing on SB 88, several people spoke in favor of the bill. There were no opponents.

Credit Legislative Services
Senator Llew Jones, R-Conrad, chairs the Senate Finance & Claims Committee

Afterwards, Senator Llew Jones, chairman of Senate Finance & Claims, said the panel will hold off deciding the fate of Senate Bill 88 until they get a chance to hear the other infrastructure bills working their way through the legislative process.