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Infrastructure bills advance in the Montana Senate
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Infrastructure bills advance in the Montana Senate

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The Montana Senate on Tuesday endorsed a raft of legislation containing $582 million for infrastructure projects throughout the state.

Mostly separate from the recent infusion of federal infrastructure funding the state is poised to receive, the nine bills moving through the Senate deal primarily with state funds and previously available federal money — although some of the legislation now includes dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March.

Sen. Mike Cuffe, a Eureka Republican and vice chair of the joint Long-Range Planning Appropriations Subcommittee, carried the entire legislative package in Senate, all of which had originated in the House. Another member of that panel, Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, took note of the relatively harmonious nature of the committee’s work amid what has at times been a bitterly partisan session.

“When it comes to our state infrastructure, in the next few bills you’re going to hear today, it’s really just such a wonderful bipartisan and collaborative effort,” Boldman said. “Every once in a while there’s some good news here, and these bills are just great for our state, and I think it’s some much-needed relief for our infrastructure around the state.”

House Bill 14 had originally been the main bonding bill for the state budget covering fiscal years 2022 and 2023. But with the passage of ARPA, the $140.8 million authorized in the bill now comes from a combination of ARPA and general fund money.

Cuffe noted that the funding for the six major construction projects in the bill now includes $37.5 million from ARPA, along with $21.3 million in funds and donations provided by the university system.

Most of the other bills include smaller amounts of money for more targeted purposes, including grants for cultural projects, renewable resource projects and restoration. House Bill 5 authorizes $274.2 million for capital development projects, and House Bill 8 authorizes up to $78.6 million in loans for water projects.

House Bill 10 appropriates $53.5 million for large IT projects, and House Bill 11 taps the Treasure State Endowment Program for water, wastewater and bridge projects totaling $19 million.

House Bill 12 is the product of negotiations last legislative session that resulted in funding for the Montana Heritage Center Museum in Helena. As a compromise, the Montana Historic Preservation Program will direct $5.5 million over the next two years to smaller historic preservation projects in more rural parts of the state.

All of the bills passed second reading by large, bipartisan margins. A final vote is needed for each of them before either moving to the governor’s desk or back to the House to deal with amendments.

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