Schweitzer on Commerce Grants

By Beacon Staff

Gov. Brian Schweitzer called me yesterday, concerned about my story on how state grants from the Commerce Department, that have been put on hold, are causing problems for Flathead County and Columbia Falls, which are now on the hook to pay for road projects mostly completed last fall.

Emphasizing that the funding was merely on hold, the governor defended his cost-cutting measure, and said Columbia Falls and Flathead County were among the last municipalities to submit contracts to the state for the roadwork, and that most other cities and counties around the state have been reimbursed at up to 90 percent of what they spent with only 10 percent of their remaining compensation held back. Regardless of when the road work was done, which projects’ funding were put on hold depended on when those municipalities sent contracts to the state. Kalispell and Whitefish have been reimbursed for similar projects, he added.

Flathead County, Schweitzer said, was “way, way late in the process.”

“If you wait a year, to get around to getting a contract in, Montana’s finances changed in a year,” Schweitzer said. “There hasn’t even been a contract signed.”

Nor did Schweitzer, a Democrat, ignore the political angle of the issue, pointing out that Flathead Republican legislators voted against this funding at every turn in the 2009 session, but now he is hearing complaints from officials in those same regions saying they aren’t receiving this funding fast enough.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Schweitzer said. “You can’t say the money showed up late and then have legislators who voted against getting any money.”

“Go figure, I guess,” he added.

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