A proposal to change how the state borrows for major infrastructure projects passed its first vote in the Montana House today by 100 to zero.
The unanimous initial vote in the House was a sharp pivot from years of disagreement in the Legislature over whether or how to use debt to pay for major public works projects.
"This is truly how government should work," said Eric Moore, a Republican representative from Miles City.
Moore is carrying the so-called Infrastructure Development and Economic Accountability Act, House Bill 553.
The bill sets a cap on state debt for large scale infrastructure. It does so based on the state’s debt to asset ratio, and the level of state revenue available to pay off that debt.
Introduced just over a week ago, the bill has since been on a fast track, moving out of committee and toward passage in the House without a single vote in opposition.
Moore spoke during a press conference with Democratic and Republican leadership Wednesday morning praising their work on the bill.
"This bill is all about consistency. It’s about doing a little something every two years, not doing $100 or $200 million in bonding one year and then not doing anything for the next decade," Moore said.
House Bill 553 also requires the state to set aside money for state buildings needing repair, before new projects are funded. It would also require the governor to create a six-year plan for infrastructure investments before every regular legislative session.
House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner, a Democrat from Great Falls, says his caucus is supporting the bill, but could look to negotiate changes in the policy moving forward, including the level at which state debt is capped.
HB 553 must pass out of the House by the end of the week.
"We see this as step one of a process to make sure we’re taking care of the people of Montana, getting people to work and putting shovels in the ground and doing good work," Schreiner said.
While HB 553 gives an outline to fund major work projects, the Legislature must still debate what projects will get funded this year. Those proposals will get picked up when lawmakers return from the transmittal break next month.