Lawmakers fail to reach compromise on infrastructure funding

Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, emphasized that he does not control how the Republican caucus votes. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA — As the Montana Legislature nears the end, both parties are struggling to find compromise on how to pay for certain infrastructure projects, like renovations to a building on the MSU campus or building a veterans’ home in Butte.

Bonding, or borrowing for these projects is where the parties split, with most Democrats in favor of it, and most Republicans against it.

At a meeting Tuesday morning that was not on the governor’s public schedule, about ten lawmakers, the governor, and his budget director talked, but never hit a compromise.

Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, brought a list of bills on topics like abortion and charter schools that he said he could bring to his caucus, “And say OK, guys, here’s a package that the governor is willing to give us, I think we can move some votes.”

Knudsen emphasized he does not control how his caucus votes.

In order for the Legislature to borrow money, it needs a two-thirds vote, so it would need support from both parties.

Some Democrats, like Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, denounced Knudsen’s offer. But Democratic Governor Steve Bullock said, “If there’s a list that gets us to 67 that Democrats actually think are decent ideas so we don’t bleed on that, then there’s reason for discussion.”

Both Democrats and Republicans named infrastructure and the budget as priorities early on in the session. Tuesday was day 85 of the 90-day session.

Cole Grant 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.