A bill that creates a long-term framework for how Montana would pick and pay for infrastructure projects was endorsed by the state Senate on a 50-0 vote Tuesday.
The IDEA Act, for Infrastructure Development and Economic Accountability Act, will head back to the House after it was amended in a Senate committee. If the House signs off on the amendments, the next stop is the governor's desk.
The bill has had only two no votes in its travel through the Legislature, in a committee from Republican Sens. Al Olszewski, of Kalispell, and David Howard, of Park City. Both voted for the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday, however.
The legislation is House Bill 553, from Republican Rep. Eric Moore, of Miles City. Moore said his intent was to move away from the hodgepodge approach the Legislature has taken in years past to picking infrastructure projects and deciding if the work would be paid for with cash or bonding.
Since 2011, the Legislature has failed to get a comprehensive bonding bill across the finish line because of disagreements over how much, if any, money the state should borrow, and what projects were included in the proposals. Bonding for high-profile projects like renovating Romney Hall at Montana State University or a new historical museum in Helena have drawn ire from Republicans in the past.
Republicans have favored spending cash over issuing bonds, while Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed an infrastructure plan in 2013 because it spent too much of the state's cash reserves.
House Bill 533 is meant to get Republicans opposed to bonding more comfortable with the idea. It would provide a limit on how much the state could bond for, set parameters for how much cash is available for projects, and would allow money set aside for building projects to be tapped for the general budget in tight financial times.
Another bill that includes this year's proposal for bonding projects is likely to reach the Senate floor later this week or early next.
And, another infrastructure bill that cleared the Legislature on Tuesday after a 71-26 vote in the House would allow communities that can leverage a resort tax and that have a population of fewer than 5,500 to ask their voters to impose an additional 1 percent tax to build infrastructure projects.
The Senate on Tuesday also passed a handful of bonding bills that pay for local water and wastewater projects, reclamation and development projects and other renewable resource projects with money from sources like the Treasure State Endowment Program.