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Attempt To Revive Bonding Bill Fails As Lawmakers Enter Final Week

Jackie Yamanaka

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected an attempt to revive a bonding measure that would pay for public school building projects, university buildings on 3 campuses, and help the Southwest Montana Veterans Home break ground.

Representative Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, offered a technical motion to suspend the rules to reconsider his House Bill 645. It failed April 6, 2017 to get the votes necessary to be transmitted to the Senate.

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, reminded the chamber Cuffe’s motion would need a 2/3rds or 67 votes. It failed on a 57-43 vote.

Afterwards, Knudsen said there is one project in the HB 645 that’s giving the Republican caucus “heartburn.” 

“Romney Hall,” he said. “Yep. It’s definitely Romney Hall.”

It’s on the Montana State University campus. Romney has been identified by higher education officials as their top capital project. They want to convert the former gymnasium into additional classrooms.

Both HB 645 and Senate Bill 367 propose issuing bonds to help MSU, Montana State University Billings, Great Falls College MSU, the Southwest Montana Veterans Home, and numerous public school projects. The main difference between the 2 bills is cost.  The price tag for HB 645 is about $78 million; nearly $100 million for SB 367.

Cost is also a consideration, said Knudsen. He said Republicans are willing to negotiate with the governor since he is the one who is a proponent of bonding.

“Honestly, I think the ball is in the governor’s court,” Knudsen said. We’ve been having some discussions with him. Met with him this morning. We met later in the week last week.”

Knudsen said the issue isn’t dead. The daily schedule issued by the governor’s office did not show either meeting between Knudsen and Bullock.

State of Montana
Governor Steve Bullock

Governor Steve Bullock happened to walk into the office’s reception area as three reporters arrived to get a statement.

“I’ve got nothing to say right now,” the Democrat said when asked for a reaction to the House action.

Bullock said he had been in meetings and wasn’t aware of the House vote or that Knudsen said the ball was in his court.

“Look I’ve been in meetings. Other things,” Bullock said as he turned and left.

A staffer said the governor wouldn’t be available for comment and that the office would issue a written statement later.

After the motion to reconsider the House’s bonding bill failed, Representative Mark Noland stood made the motion that the House Sine Die, while that motion failed. It was a sign Representatives are getting weary and want to go home. Monday was the 84th day of the 90-day session.

Editor's note:  After this story was published, Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel issued this written statement to YPR:  "Once again legislators are waiting until the eleventh hour to pass a major infrastructure bill, create jobs, and build our communities. These political games put infrastructure at the risk of failure - at the expense of Montanans who deserve better."