It's over: Lawmakers leave without passing statewide infrastructure bill
HELENA — The Montana Legislature ended its 2015 regular session this morning, as lawmakers quickly adjourned after failing one last time to pass a $150 million bill funding infrastructure and state building projects across the state.
At a floor session that started at 7 a.m., House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, asked the House to suspend its rules to vote again on Senate Bill 416, the infrastructure bill. The vote fell five votes short of the needed two-thirds majority, 61-36.
Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helena, then moved to adjourn the session for good, and the House agreed at 7:07 a.m. on a 63-35 vote. The state Senate followed suit a few minutes later.
While lawmakers left Helena without passing the infrastructure bill, the Legislature managed to pass several major initiatives since it began in January.
It voted to expand Medicaid health coverage for thousands of low-income Montanans, approved the controversial Flathead tribal water-rights compact and passed a campaign-finance bill that intends to crack down on “dark money,” requiring all groups spending on elections to report their donors and spending details.
A coalition of minority Democrats and some Republicans formed the majorities that passed all three of those measures.
At meetings with reporters this morning, leaders of the Republican majorities in both the Senate and House said they were proud to have kept state spending increases to a minimum, at about 3 percent a year during the next two years, and to have passed an increase in state funding for public schools early in the session, rather than leaving it as a “political football” at session’s end.
GOP leaders expressed disappointment over the failure of the infrastructure bill, and said Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock shared some blame for refusing to negotiate on the bill in the final days of the Legislature.
“We wanted to work the entire weekend, on changes in the legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive. “We were told they were not going to change the legislation, that they were going to change minds (on the legislation).”
Bullock administration officials have said they already compromised greatly from their original proposal for a bigger infrastructure bill.
The bill needed approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate because it includes authority for the state to borrow money, through bonds, to finance some of the projects in the bill. The bill achieved the two-thirds majority twice in the past week on preliminary votes, but then fell one or two votes short on several final votes, including a 66-33 vote on Monday.
SB416 funded had $100 million for grants and loans to local governments for public-works projects and another $50 million for state capital projects, including $25 million for a new Montana Historical Society museum and center in Helena, $23 million for renovating Romney Hall on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman and $7.6 million to expand state mental-health facilities in Warm Springs and Lewistown.
It also included $10 million in bonding to finance construction of a veterans’ nursing home near Butte.
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