HELENA – The House Appropriations Committee on Friday approved issuing $75.5 million in bonds – or now possibly by paying with cash – for new buildings and renovations, mostly at state colleges and universities.
House Bill 14 by Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, passed 13-8 after some amendments. He introduced the bill for Gov. Steve Bullock, who calls it his JOBS – Jobs and Opportunities by Building Schools – plan.
The bill next will go before the full House for debate. Because the state is borrowing money for the projects by issuing bonds, HB14 needs a two-thirds majority to pass both the House and Senate.
A similar bonding bill failed in 2011 because it didn’t secure the necessary two-thirds majority in the House on a vote to approve a Senate amendment.
Several major changes were made to HB14.
On Thursday, the committee put $23 million for a new Montana Historical Society museum building into House Bill 5, the state’s long-range building program, which is funded by cash.
Because of that move, money for the Helena building was removed Friday from the bonding bill. However, Hollenbaugh passed an amendment Friday to restore this $23 million for the Historical Society building to HB14, if it is removed from HB5 or if HB5 is defeated.
On Friday, the committee unanimously passed an amendment by House Appropriations Chairman Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, to provide an option that the projects be funded by cash, not bonds, if a certain trigger is met.
It provides that if the state’s audited ending fund balance on July 1 exceeds an estimated $225.5 million – a $150 million general fund surplus, plus the $75.5 million cost of the building projects in HB14 – then the state would have to use surplus cash for projects instead of issuing bonds.
No amendment was offered in committee to strip funding for a new Missoula College building because of local controversy over building it on University of Montana’s South Campus, where the school’s golf course is located.
Rep. David “Doc” Moore, R-Missoula, had told the Missoulian he would be proposing such an amendment. Moore is not on the Appropriations Committee, but will be able to offer the amendment from the House floor.
After the Appropriations Committee meeting, Mick Robinson, deputy commissioner of higher education for fiscal affairs, said he was “very pleased” with the vote.
“It cleared the next hurdle in the process, and we’ll be looking forward to the discussion and debate on the floor of the House,” Robinson said. “We’re optimistic, but the two-thirds threshold is always a significant challenge.”
Cary Hegreberg, executive vice president of the Montana Contractors’ Association, called the committee vote “one small step in the right direction.”
HB14 has an unusual coalition behind it, made up of both business groups such as the contractors’ association and the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and unions such as the Montana AFL-CIO and MEA-MFT. Supporters say the bill will create 2,400 construction jobs around the state.
The projects are:
• $29 million for a new building for Missoula College (plus $3 million in private matching funds).
• $20 million (plus $5 million in matching funds) to convert Romney Hall, an old gym at Montana State University in Bozeman, into a student information and learning center.
• $10 million (plus $5 million in matching funds) to modernize a science building and labs at Montana State University-Billings.
• $5 million (plus $5 million in matching funds) to build a natural resource research center addition at Montana Tech in Butte.
• $4.9 million (plus $3 million in matching funds) to build a new automotive/diesel technology center at MSU-Northern at Havre.
• $4 million (plus $500,000 in matching funds) for the third phase of the Main Hall renovation at University of Montana Western in Dillon.
• $1.6 million ($1.6 million match) for a justice center in Butte.
• $1 million to repair a roof at Great Falls College.