Montana Senate panel tables bill for Missoula College, other state buildings

2013-04-10T15:16:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:32Z Montana Senate panel tables bill for Missoula College, other state buildings missoulian.com

HELENA – A Senate committee on Wednesday tabled the bill that would have appropriated nearly $100 million in state cash for some new university system building projects and renovations, and a new Montana Historical Society building.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee voted 17-3 to table House Bill 5, which called for spending $228 million from all sources on long-range building projects, including fisheries, dams and buildings. The total included $63 million in required matching funds for the university system buildings, including for a new Missoula College facility.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the building projects may not be dead. With the two-thirds majority in each house, no bills are dead in the Legislature until it adjourns.

Legislators are talking about reviving House Bill 14, the now-dead bill to authorize the issuance of bonds to fund the projects. That bill, by Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, failed to obtain the needed two-thirds vote in the House on Friday and thus failed to meet the deadline that day to move to the Senate.

Breathing new life into the bonding bill comes with a major advantage, but also a substantial drawback.

The bonding money would not count against the fast-shrinking state general fund’s projected ending fund balance.

The state can’t afford SB5 as it is, Senate Finance and Claims Chairman Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek said.

“We’ve got a lot of checks, and we’re short of cash,” Ripley told reporters after the meeting.

The general feeling, Ripley said, is that if some of these building projects go forward, they will have to go be put in the bonding bill.

The Legislature has only 15 days remaining before its scheduled April 27 adjournment. Before adjourning, lawmakers are constitutionally required to bring the state general fund budget into balance with projected revenues.

However, a difficult-to-obtain two-thirds majority would be needed to revive HB14 and then again for the Senate to accept it. The same supermajority would be required to pass the bill at every stage in both houses.

A similar bonding bill by Hollenbaugh died in 2011 when it couldn’t muster the two-thirds majority during the final House vote.

***

If new life is breathed into HB14, some projects could be funded by bonds, while others could be paid for by cash in SB5.

The bonding bill enjoys the support of business groups such as the Montana Contractors’ Association and Chamber of Commerce as well as labor groups such as the Montana AFL-CIO and MEA-MFT.

It’s a top priority of Gov. Steve Bullock, who calls it the Jobs and Opportunity by Building Schools, or JOBS, bill. Some 2,400 construction workers would be hired to build the new facilities, which would educate and train future Montana workers.

Bullock’s budget director, Dan Villa, urged the committee Tuesday to use bonds rather than pay cash for the projects because of low-interest rates and the state’s “sterling” bond ratings.

Before the Senate Finance and Claims Committee tabled SB5, members had prepared a number of amendments to strip projects from the bill.

Two sets of amendments proposed dropping $29 million for building a new Missoula College facility. It’s the only building project that has drawn opposition, as some Missoula people are fighting its proposed location, which is now the site of the University of Montana Golf Course.

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, had an amendment to eliminate $87 million of projects, leaving only $4.8 million.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, had two separate amendments. One would have eliminated the $23 million Montana Historical Society building, while the other would have dropped the $29 million Missoula College project.

State Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian remained optimistic the projects would be approved.

“We are sensing that when this sessions ends, there will be a JOBS bill that will include construction projects for the Montana university system,” he said. “There are still plenty of days left in the session to get the JOBS bill passed.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

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(3) Comments

  1. David1
    Report Abuse
    David1 - April 11, 2013 9:43 am
    Casual, you absolutely don't get it. You don't know what you're talking about. You talk about only what you know & what you know isn't enough.
  2. Casual Observer
    Report Abuse
    Casual Observer - April 10, 2013 10:21 pm
    I'll say it once again- there are good reasons for building south of campus- it's been a carefully considered decision involving analysis of complex variables . If it was in the best interest of students, the initial decision would have been to build at Fort Missoula. As far as I can tell the only reason for not building at south campus is because a very small group of people want to keep their golf course. Build the golf course at Fort Missoula if its so important to keep it!
  3. David1
    Report Abuse
    David1 - April 10, 2013 7:56 pm
    IF Missoula College is not funded this go round, all is not lost. No one questions the need for MC's need for more space. What is being questioned is why it must be built on the present UM golf course, thus making 4 campuses for the college, when one, consolidated MC at the West Campus site would serve its constituents better. MC's constituents are not UM students, but Missoulians who live, say, west of Orange, north of 39th St, north of Broadway, and all points west, north, south, and east along 93 and the I-90 corridor. In short, MC has nothing to do with UM, other than finance & administration.

    Similar state colleges at Helena, Great Falls, Butte, and Billings all have consolidated campuses. MC should be no different. Too many Missoulians cannot understand a post-HS institution separate from UM, but that is exactly what MC needs. Also, MC must be a commuter college. No dorms.

    Several years ago, plans were financed and made for a Hydrogen Futures Park at the West Campus/ Ft. Missoula site. Models, the whole 9 yards. All UM needs to do is resurrect those plans, review them, alter tham, and build the MC this community needs. There should be no basic work needed, as it's already been done.

    I can understand Pres. Dennison abandoning the hydrogen aspect; I don't understand why he did not alter those plans to keep the then-COT as its own campus, as planned. What UM has been doing with MC and what it wants to do is a travesty that hopefully, now, the legislature recognizes.

    Refusal to fund UM's request is not a bane; it's a blessing that Missoulians will value, once MC has its own campus at its West Campus location.
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