Montana Public Radio

Montana Legislature Approves $80 Million Infrastructure Borrowing Plan

Apr 18, 2019

The Montana Legislature has passed an $80 million infrastructure bonding package. The vote Thursday broke a nearly decade-long stalemate over funding major public works projects in the state.

The bill includes money for the renovation of Romney Hall at Montana State University in Bozeman, a new dental clinic at MSU Great Falls, a Butte-Silver Bow County Armory, and local water and wastewater projects around the state.

"I believe this is the best bonding bill that we have seen," said Sen. Mike Cuffe, a Republican from Eureka.

Cuffe says this session lawmakers struck a balanced mix of cash and bonds.

Similar proposals have failed in recent legislative sessions because of the two-thirds vote required to create state debt. Lawmakers have often disagreed about using debt to pay for certain infrastructure projects.

Lawmakers also passed another bill to guide future infrastructure work, which could limit fighting over how to pay for projects in subsequent legislative sessions. It did not directly impact bonding this session.

In future years, the bill will cap how much borrowing the state can do based on a ratio of debt and revenue. It will also require the state to spend cash on maintenance before borrowing money to pay for new projects.

A cost analysis from Gov. Steve Bullock’s office says the bill will increase general fund spending by $49 million in the 2023 biennium and cap debt service at around $40 million a year.