HELENA — A Montana House committee on Friday dove into a Senate proposal seeking to issue $100 million in bonds, one day after the House rejected its own version to pay for a slate of building and infrastructure projects.
Fiscal conservatives on the House Appropriations Committee will likely scale back the spending, but the question is whether they will do so with an ax or a scalpel.
On Thursday, the House rejected its own $78 million package, which was mired in debate over what projects to fund and how to pay for them. Some Republicans are philosophically opposed to issuing bonds to pay and would rather wait until the state has the necessary cash to pay for projects.
The Senate proposal represents the final opportunity this session for lawmakers and Gov. Steve Bullock to reach an elusive deal on an infrastructure package.
"Just 'No' is not always a solution. Do we want to govern or do we want to defend our voting record? At some point in time, we have to talk about solutions," said Sen. Eric Moore, a Republican from Miles City, who sponsored the Senate bill.
He urged bond opponents to offer other options, noting that the infrastructure debate has long dogged lawmakers.
"This is not going away. If we're not going to do this, let's talk about other options," he said.
Officials from school districts and local governments, as well as lobbyists representing business groups and trade organizations, urged the committee to support an infrastructure package.
But some Republicans on the committee have expressed concern over using debt to pay for large building projects, such as Montana State University's Romney Hall and a veterans' home in Butte.
Committee Chair Nancy Ballance said she was in no rush to take action on the bill, saying several weeks still remain in the legislative session for her committee to do so.