Montana Public Radio

State Senate Looks To Break Infrastructure Borrowing Impasse

Apr 2, 2019

Two high-profile bills outlining a path for Montana to borrow tens of millions of dollars to update infrastructure across the state got their first hearings today in the Senate.

Legislation allowing the state to issue general obligation bonds to pay for large-scale public works projects in Montana has routinely failed in recent years.

But so far this legislative session, lawmakers have unanimously backed a plan that could change that in the near future. 

Representative Jim Keane is a Democrat from Butte who’s served a combination of 10 terms between the House and Senate.

On Tuesday he told the Senate Finance and Claims Committee that the 66th Legislature has a chance make history.

"We have an opportunity here to create a legacy that hasn't been done in quite a long time."

Rep. Jim Keane, D - HD73
Credit Montana Legislature

The so-called IDEA Act would fundamentally change how the state goes about approving bonding for infrastructure projects. It puts a cap on how much debt the state can take on to pay for infrastructure  depending on the state’s revenue picture and current debt load.

A second bill would approve the start of nearly $80 million in bonded projects, including the long fought over Romney Hall at Montana State University in Bozeman.

However, that bill barely cleared the two-thirds support of the House it needed to pass. It faces a similar vote threshold to pass out of the Senate.

The Senate Finance and Claims committee is expected to give an initial vote on both bills later this week.