House GOP Breaks Up Gov. Bullock’s Infrastructure Bill

Rep. Mike Cuffee of Eureka says they will divide House Bill 5 into seven separate bills

By LISA BAUMANN, Associated Press

HELENA — House Republicans said Thursday that they are rejecting most of the bonding proposed in Gov. Steve Bullock’s nearly $400 million infrastructure bill.

The conservative Legislature refusing in recent sessions to bond at a high level has led to Montana’s financial strength, Rep. Nancy Ballance of Hamilton said at a news conference at the Capitol. She called Bullock’s Build Montana proposal irresponsible.

About 54 percent of the Democratic governor’s $391 million proposal uses bonding to pay for projects, including sewer systems and school maintenance throughout the state.

“The Republican leadership in the Legislature shouldn’t be playing political games, they should be helping Governor Bullock address the infrastructure needs of our state,” Bullock spokesman Dave Parker said in an email.

Rep. Mike Cuffe of Eureka said lawmakers are dividing House Bill 5 into seven separate bills. Cuffe didn’t say which of Bullock’s 280 proposed projects would be eliminated, but he said one measure would address funding for projects in parts of eastern Montana affected by the oil boom.

“These funding bills will receive individual, fair hearings, giving Montana’s most critical infrastructure projects the best chance at being funded,” said Cuffe, the chairman of a budget subcommittee that has been holding hearings on Bullock’s bill.

The Republican plan comes a day after Bullock told lawmakers in his State of the State address that he would veto any infrastructure plan paid for by all Montanans and only benefiting some.

“As Governor Bullock said last night, we are one state, and we have urgent infrastructure needs across Montana,” Parker wrote in an email. “And any infrastructure plan that is paid for by all Montanans, but only prioritizes pet projects of certain legislators, will be met with a veto.”

State budget director Dan Villa testified previously that bonds could be a cheaper form of funding for the projects because cash kept in investments would generate more money than the state would have to pay in bond interest.

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