Fight Over Infrastructure Takes Shape At The Montana Legislature

Jan 3, 2017

The fight over infrastructure projects is beginning to brew in the Montana Legislature. On day two of the session, Democratic leaders pushed forward with the governor’s plan for big ticket construction projects like roads, bridges, schools and capital projects, even though they admit Republicans will likely dismantle parts of it.

The minority Democratic leaders in the House and Senate said Tuesday that Jim Keane, a representative from Butte, will carry Governor Steve Bullock’s infrastructure proposal.

Keane says the governor’s ask for almost $300 million, a mix of cash and bonds, is just a starting point:

"You bet there will be changes. That’s the world we live in. We’re the Montana House and Senate. We are going to do it together, and it won’t be the identical bill that was sent to us."

Representative Keane declined to say what changes might be made to the bill.

"The current bill, I wouldn’t vote for," says Senate President Scott Sales, A Republican from Bozeman.

Sales generally opposes creating new bond debt to pay for state building projects. He says his objection to the spending proposed in the infrastructure bill does not necessarily represent the views of the Republican caucus, but he says there are others in his party who share his view on bonding.

An infrastructure bill failed in the final days of the 2015 session, in part because Republican lawmakers didn’t want to sign off on the state going into bond debt to pay for it.

Sales says he is opposed to borrowing money unless it is for what he calls critically important projects:

"I don’t know of any projects right off the top of my head that qualify under that definition. But if there are some, and they are in a stand alone bill, I might be persuaded to vote for it."

On the first day of the session, Republican leadership called for their caucus to support essential infrastructure projects. Their statement did not mention bonding.

Democrats announced that Representative Jim Keane would sponsor the infrastructure  bill during a press conference in the Capitol Tuesday, aiming to drive public support for their legislation, which doesn’t currently have a hearing date scheduled.