Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has turned to Republican State Rep. Jeff Welborn of Dillon to sponsor his nearly $400 million-plus infrastructure bill in the 2015 Legislature.
“Montana is lucky to have statesmen like Jeff Welborn who are eager to get something done on behalf of all Montanans and who will work across the aisle to do it,” Bullock said in a statement.
“While Jeff and I won’t agree on everything, we agree that Democrats and Republicans should work together to find common sense solutions to fix our roads, build our schools and provide safe drinking water across our state.”
Welborn said Tuesday that Bullock approached him to sponsor the bill and, after considering it, he agreed to do so. Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate.
“My thought is the Legislature has to pass something that the governor will sign,” Welborn said.
The hard-line Republicans want to use cash for infrastructure rather than bonding, said Welborn, a GOP moderate. Bullock’s bill contains a combination of both cash and bonding.
Dubbed “Build Montana,” Bullock’s bill proposes to spend $391 million on public works, Of that total, 54 percent, or $212 million, is from bonding, while $178.9 million, or 45.8 percent, is from cash sources.
A new analysis by the Montana Department of Commerce said if Bullock’s proposal passes in its current form, it would support 4,293 jobs, create $561 million in economic output and increase wages by $200 million.
“When you’ve got a Republican-controlled Legislature and a Democratic executive, no one is going to get everything they want,” Welborn said. “My hope is we can keep the discussion alive and in the end roll out a bill. Montanans have always expected their policy makers to work in a bipartisan fashion.”
As a Republican, Welborn said he believes in job creation, a strong economy and that public works projects are vital for cities, counties and schools.
“It’s frustrating,” Welborn said. “I remember a day when Republicans didn’t even have to justify or put a caveat our there for public works projects because it was a good strong policy we support.”
Now some Republicans are saying they will only support a cash infrastructure program.
“If money is available or more cash, I’m willing to go that way,” he said. “If not, there‘s a vehicle out there to address the statewide infrastructure discussion. But at the end of the day, let’s get something done.”
Welborn said the longer the state waits to provide the money, the more expensive infrastructure will be to build or repair.
The Dillon legislator, who will be starting his fourth and final session in the House, said he likes the fact that Bullock is proposing a single, comprehensive bill for all of the public works projects rather than six separate bills as has been the case in the past.
“Part of what intrigued me is it’s one bill,” Welborn said. “It’s comprehensive, with priority projects in 54 of 56 counties, east to west, north to south, soup to nuts.
“I think the one-bill concept is a great starting point to talk infrastructure. Infrastructure is front and center for both parties. Having it all in one bill gives us all the opportunity to come to the table to start the discussion. It’s a more efficient way to have a robust discussion.”