HELENA – On a 4-2 vote Thursday, a legislative subcommittee approved a bill to issue nearly $100 million worth of bonds to finance the construction of new university system buildings, including funds for a new Missoula College building. It also includes money for a new Montana Historical Society Museum.
The bill next will go to the full House Appropriations Committee and then eventually to the House and eventually to the Senate.
To pass, it will require two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate because the state will be borrowing money by issuing bonds. A similar bill failed in 2011 in the final vote on the floor.
In all, House Bill 14 would authorize $98.5 million in bonding for the projects, which also include updating and repairing some current buildings.
Of that total, $73.9 million would go for the Montana university system, while $23 million would be for the Historical Society. The remaining $1.6 million is intended for a justice center for state and local law-enforcement officials in Butte.
It also authorizes the U-system to raise a total of $56.5 million from various sources in matching funds and for other construction projects to be funded entirely by other sources. The Historical Society and Butte-Silver Bow would be allowed to raise $5.5 million and $1.6 million respectively from other sources for their projects.
With little discussion or debate, the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning passed HB14, as amended to reflect changes by Gov. Steve Bullock. The bill was amended to reflect what Bullock wants to call the bonding bill – the Jobs and Opportunities by Building Schools, or JOBS.
Voting for the bill were Reps. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, the panel’s chairman, and Bill McChesney, D-Miles City, and Sens. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, and Jon Sesso, D-Butte.
Voting against it were Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, and Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek.
“It’s fantastic,” said HB14 sponsor, Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena. “I couldn’t be more happy. Obviously it’s a long process, but I’m happy to take it on to the next step and have the discussion there.”
Lewis said later: “We had a good hearing on it. There appeared to be little or no controversy on most of the projects so we decided we might as well move it along through the process.”
Supporting the bill is an unusual coalition of business and labor. It includes the Montana Contractors Association, Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana AFL-CIO and MEA-MFT and other unions.
After the meeting, Mick Robinson, deputy commissioner of higher education for fiscal affairs, said, “We’re pleased with the bill as it sits. We look forward to the discussions and debate in House Appropriations.”
Among the projects are:
– $29 million for a new building for Missoula College (plus $3 million in private matching funds).
– $23 million for a new Historical Society museum building in Helena (plus $5.5 million in 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 the University of Montana Western in Dillon.
– $1.6 million ($1.6 million match) for the justice center in Butte.
– $1 million to repair a roof at Great Falls College.