By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Lawmakers will hear testimony Tuesday on a bill that would offer grants to local communities to help fund infrastructure projects.
Senate Bill 162 would divide the state into four quarters, based on population, to distribute up to $40 million for projects. The bill specifically lays out what can be defined as an infrastructure project, which the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, says is a key provision.
He took issue with a museum being included in an infrastructure bill last session.
“Why are we putting money into a museum when we’ve got roads, bridges, school roofs and other things that have a lot of needs?” Regier said.
The bill defines infrastructure projects as those like drinking water, sewer or wastewater systems and roads, bridges and buildings.
Regier said the $40 million is just a number he made up because it’s easily divisible by the four sections the bill would divvy the state in. He said the committee hearing the bill, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, would find the money for these grants.
“If there is any more money that we could cut from the budget, that’s all the more money that could go for infrastructure,” Regier said.
The projects would be funded partially by the grants, but also by matching funds from the local projects themselves.
“They could use money already invested in a project – say a county has been working on a road and they already have several hundred thousand invested in that road, they can use that in their matching portion,” Regier said.
The bill is one of several bills lawmakers are weighing this session to fund infrastructure projects across the state. Both parties and the governor have identified infrastructure as a top priority.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.