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Tribal governments would be allowed to access a state infrastructure loan program under legislation debated Monday in the Montana House Appropriations Committee.

The Montana Board of Investments aims to invest 25 percent of the state’s Coal Tax Fund annually. One of the ways it does so, the INTERCAP program, provides local governments with variable-rate loans for infrastructure projects. It funded $20.6 million worth of loans in Fiscal Year 2018.

While state agencies, counties, cities, towns, school districts and other governmental units are currently eligible for the loan, Montana’s seven federally-recognized tribes, and the state-recognized Little Shell Chippewa tribe, are not.

House Bill House Bill 428, introduced by Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, would change that and make them eligible.

“These programs provide more tools for tribal government to improve infrastructure and create jobs in local communities, which is good for all of Montana,” said Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Jason Smith, director of Indian Affairs for the Governor’s Office, Carole Lankford, a member of the CSKT Tribal Council, and Sue Taylor with the Native American Development Corp. in Billings all spoke in support of the bill.

“Unlike most governments, tribal governments have very limited opportunities to impose taxes or to issue tax-exempt bonds,” said Lankford. “While we are proud of our accomplishments over the years, we are confident that with additional financing opportunities, we will be able to do even more.”

INTERCAP funds revolve in and out of the program, so the change in availability is not projected to impact state finances, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

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In his opening remarks, Rep. Morigeau said it would not affect other governments’ ability to access the funds. During the question-and-answer session, Rep. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, asked Board of Investments Executive Director Dan Villa to explain why this was the case.

“We remarket the bonds each year,” he said. “Once we run out of that allocation of bonds, we have the authority to go issue more. We’re not oversubscribed at the time being so there’s no competition for that limited pool of bonds.”

No opponents spoke against the bill at Monday’s hearing.

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