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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Dems Promise 'Silver Bullet' To Keep Governor's Infrastructure Bill Alive

Rep. Nancy Ballance (R) HD87
Montana Legislature

The fight over how to fund infrastructure projects in Montana continues in the state legislature.

Early in the session, Republicans made it known the prospects were grim for the governor's infrastructure proposal. It would have funded projects through a combination of cash on-hand and bonding.

Appropriations Chair Nancy Ballance blasts Bullock administration officials for never reaching out to her or other Republican leaders to see if a compromise could be reached.

"Not once," Ballance said.

House Bill 5 covers a wide spectrum including projects for drinking water; sewer; roads and bridges; irrigation systems, numerous building renovations, and facility replacements or upgrades.

"So again we have in front of us an all or nothing bill with every project thrown into it," says Ballance. "And basically a promise across this state, a tour across this state, making people believe that their project would be funded. And then it comes to the Legislature with a funding mechanism that the governor knows many are not in favor of and a bully attempt to push it through."

Other opponents say the bill had little chance to get the super-majority vote needed to even pass. That's required because one funding mechanism is coal severance tax bonds.

But Democratic Vice Chair Pat Noonan is more optimistic. He thinks the bill could get the necessary votes because the Governor's proposal reaches widely across the state.

"House Bill 5 was one Montana. So we all, every community had something riding in it. It should unite us all in the vote."

Still Noonan says Democrats anticipated the prospects for House Bill 5 were grim so he announced early in the executive action what Democrats intend to do.

Pat Noonan is the public policy officer for AWARE.
Credit Montana Legislature
Rep. Pat Noonan (D) HD74

"I just think a lot of us feel that this is the best vehicle as one to kick over to the Senate. And so we've made it enough of a priority that I think, Madam Chair, that we're going to make this one a 'silver bullet.' And so we have a letter for it to make it a 'silver bullet' so we just wanted to make it an official one on House Bill 5."

A so-called "silver bullet" is a negotiated procedural agreement that allows each party the ability to bring up to six bills that are tabled in committee to the House Floor for debate on a simple majority vote.

In a letter dated March 16, Minority Leader Chuck Hunter wrote to Speaker Austin Knudsen that Democrats designate House Bill 5 for a "silver bullet."

The Appropriations Committee tabled the bill on a 13-to-7 vote.

"Tabling is safer than an adverse committee report. It's safer," Noonan said.

Noonan knows about that first hand. An adverse committee report is a "do not pass recommendation" out of committee. That's exactly what Noonan's Medicaid expansion bill received in the House Human Services Committee which effectively killed the governor's proposal.

Representative Chuck Hunter did not know when Democrats will make a motion to try to bring House Bill 5 from the table to the House Floor for debate.

If successful, it would join the GOP infrastructure proposals. Basically, they strip down the number of projects and fund them with cash-on hand.

Meanwhile, a new proposal was officially introduced Tuesday in the Senate. Senate Bill 416 is scheduled for a hearing Thursday before Finance and Claims.

These bills face a Tuesday deadline to be transmitted to the other chamber.

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