Which projects? What funding? Infrastructure talks begin at Montana Legislature

“If you don’t have a framework, it’s always going to be a political debate,” said Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. “And that seems like a poor way to run a railroad.” (Shaylee Ragar/UM Legislative News Service)

(UM Legislative News Service) Lawmakers in Helena are beginning discussions on how to build and maintain the state’s infrastructure, and again the debate will come down to which projects get funding and where that funding comes from.

Rep. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte, is sponsoring House Bill 14, which requests $160 million in bonded, or essentially borrowed, funds to pay for both critical projects — like bridges and wastewater system maintenance — and building projects, like the renovation of MSU’s Romney Hall. A similar bill failed to pass last legislative session by two votes.

“All of Montana benefits from the investment in infrastructure, both in the urban areas as well as the rural areas,” Lynch said.

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, understands the need to borrow funds, but said carefully managing any bonding is essential for funding future projects.

“If you don’t have a framework, it’s always going to be a political debate,” Jones said. “And that seems like a poor way to run a railroad.”

Jones said Republicans are working on a financial guideline bill that would include some bonding for infrastructure projects. The bill would look at cost and need of projects, as well as what funding sources are available.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, who chairs of the Joint Appropriations Committee, said the new bill will be introduced before any other infrastructure bills move forward.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.