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Bullock defends veto of oil-gas impact fund

Eastern Montana officials unhappy
2013-05-09T17:37:00Z Bullock defends veto of oil-gas impact fundBy MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
May 09, 2013 5:37 pm  • 

Local officials in eastern Montana’s oil-boom cities and counties aren’t happy over Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto this week of a bill creating a $35 million fund for infrastructure projects in these areas.

“It surprised all of us out here,” Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser said Thursday. “All we’re asking for is a little bit of help — and we were promised a little bit of help.”

But Bullock said he had to make difficult decisions to keep a sizable  needed cushion in the state budget — and House Bill 218 was one of the casualties.

“When the Legislature leaves town spending more than they brought in, to the tune of $22 million, and leaving an insufficient rainy-day fund — unfortunately, I had to finish the job that they didn’t,” he said.

Bullock, a Democrat, noted that several other bills he signed include millions of dollars for water, sewer and other projects in counties and cities impacted by oil-and-gas development.

Also, he said Republican legislative leaders rejected a proposal to use bonds to finance these projects, instead insisting on cash from the state treasury. Bullock said he supported the bonding proposal.

“Even though we had record low interest rates (to finance bonds), they wouldn’t take it,” he said.

HB218, sponsored by Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, was one of 27 bills that Bullock vetoed on Monday.

It passed the House last month on a 93-6 vote and the Senate 48-2. A mail poll of legislators will be conducted on whether they want to override Bullock’s veto. At least two-thirds of each body is needed to override the veto.

The bill creates a $35 million, two-year fund to pay for water, sewer, roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects in areas impacted by oil-and-gas development along the Montana-North Dakota border. Thousands of workers and their families have poured into the area to work in the oil fields.

The state Department of Commerce would decide which projects would receive grants from the fund.

Smelser said Sidney alone has identified $55 million worth of needed infrastructure projects, including a $13 million expansion of its sewage system, to handle the increased population from oil-and-gas development.

“If this veto doesn’t get overridden, we’re going to have to take some pretty drastic measures out here to see what we can do,” he said. “We’ve already tripled our water and sewage rates, and doubled our water and sewer hook-up fees. …

“I would urge Republicans and Democrats (in the Legislature) to look at this thing again.”

Bullock pointed to three other bills he signed that help finance some water and sewer projects in the oil-and-gas impacted areas, as well as other parts of the state.

The Treasure State Endowment Program funds $15 million worth of projects in oil-and-gas-producing counties, and another bill contains $17 million to complete two major rural water projects in north-central and northeastern Montana. A school-funding bill also contains several million dollars for districts impacted by oil-and-gas development.

Smelser said the rural water projects don’t really help the hardest-hit towns. Only a few of the TSEP grants go to cities and counties near the North Dakota border.

Bullock said his administration worked with a bipartisan group of legislators on a proposal that had identified the greatest needs and would have used a combination of cash and bonds to fund the projects. That proposal was rejected by Republicans at the Legislature, he said.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to invest in oil-and-gas counties,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the same legislators who wouldn’t look at an overall infrastructure program, will do so next time.”

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - May 31, 2013 7:32 pm
    Why not partener up with the oil giants and have them poney up some money to help their workers live in a decient safe and sanitary fashion in the eastern towns. Sorta like an impact fee. Oil people can afford it. They charge the rest of us plenty for oil products. It is only fair.
  2. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - May 16, 2013 7:53 am
    I wonder why the Legislature spends all that time to write and pass bills only to have them vetoed by the Gov. It seems to me that a more up front bipartisan approach would give the Legislature more time to work on other issues that need to be addressed. It seems like every other year we get the same circus in town. Seems to me that there needs to be some changes in how we think about our elected officials. We need people who are leaders on both sides. It is all about the PEOPLE not some politician.
  3. Reader14
    Report Abuse
    Reader14 - May 13, 2013 6:55 am
    Interesting that Bullock doesn't mind sucking the oil and gas money out of the eastern part of the State, but then won't put back into those communities.

    Anyone who has actually had to deal with the mess being created by the oil and gas development would see the immediate and dire need to invest in roads, sewer, water, conservation, etc.

    Just another case of take, take, take from the environment and not doing it responsibly.

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