The Bonding BillThe Corrector just received a short update on MSU –Northern’s proposed funding for the Diesel Facility from HD 33 Representative Kris Hansen. When it comes to funding for the university system is the “All or Nothing” approach really the best for the system as a whole? Read Representative Hansen’s letter and tell us what you think.
I am getting many questions about what is going on with HB 439, better known as the “Bonding Bill.” Emails have been circulating that Representative Warburton and I have “voted against Northern.” This is not true. If we had voted differently, we know the bill would have died on the floor that day. We did not have the votes to pass it.
The bonding bill originally introduced did not include Northern. Representative Belcourt, who is on the Appropriations Committee, introduced an amendment and Representative Warburton testified at the hearing. Northern’s building was successfully amended into the bill.
However, Northern’s project is now part of a huge bill that has a $97.8 million dollar price tag. And that price tag is not just writing a check and spending money. That price tag is for the state to issue bonds and put the state in debt. The state would be on the hook for principal and interest payments for twenty years. Additionally, there will be operations and maintenance costs to the state of upwards of $10 million per year. The price of the bonding bill is a huge debt of the state and unpalatable to many republicans in a time when the federal debt has topped 14 trillion and our nation as a whole is losing fiscal credibility worldwide. Additionally, many of the projects look and smell a lot like pork, making it very unlikely we could get a 2/3 majority of the House of Representatives to vote for it.
Knowing this was the case, I asked Chancellor Trocki in late February if he would like me to bring a bill seeking an appropriation just for Northern. An appropriation is not debt. An appropriation says we have money we are willing to spend right now with no debt. Several fiscally conservative republicans have confirmed to me that they see Northern’s diesel program as beneficial to the state as a whole, especially given the oil boom in the east where trucks and equipment need qualified mechanics to ensure progress in the oil fields. I am confident I had at least a reasonable chance to get an appropriation bill passed. However, Frank spoke with “the system,” some unnamed “they” who told him to “toe-the-line” and not seek anything for Northern outside of what the U-system was supporting. I did not bring the bill based on that answer. In hindsight, that was clearly a mistake on my part, and I expect Frank Trocki may now believe it was a mistake on his part also.
Still uncertain that the big bonding bill could pass the House, in mid-march, I called Regent Lynn Hamilton to discuss a new bonding bill. I asked her about what the university system’s priorities are. I had a second bonding bill drafted based on the regents’ priorities. That bill is HB 635. It includes new facilities for Northern, the Missoula COT, and MSU-Billings. It also includes five deferred maintenance projects including $1 million in renovations at the ag experiment stations.
The hearing on HB 635 was held on March 24. No one from the U-system showed up in support of the bill. No one. The U-system made a decision to support only the big bill and did not even testify in support of a bill that included projects taken directly from its own priority list.
Last week, I spoke with the sponsor of the big bill. I told him I was still concerned that some of the “pork” projects in the bill would kill the bill. He told me to just stop talking about it and vote for the bill. He said “this is the process, you have to give to get.” Now we are facing a final vote and the bill, including Northern's project, may die in the House.
My take on this whole mess is this. The “process” isn’t going to work anymore. Montanans and the rest of the country are waking up to free-for-all spending and government debt. Necessary projects are worthy of funding. Unnecessary projects are not. Fiscal conservatives will no longer vote “green” just to get their district a pork project. We can’t afford it. I will be as disappointed as anyone if Northern’s building is not built. But the U-system didn’t play its cards right on this one. They squelched the initiative of a motivated chancellor and a rookie representative in favor of an “all-or-nothing” approach. That may very well hurt Northern and the Hi-Line this week.
Representative Kris Hansen
Corrector note -- In addition the following is what the two bonding bills would have paid for. The All or Nothing bill is HB 439 and Hansen's Compromise bill which the university folks snubbed their nose at is HB 635. Compare the two and tell our readers how you think Northern would have faired if the University system would have been somewhat reasonable
HB 439 (the big bill or what has come to be known as the Bonding Bill):
1) combined state labs, $6.7 million,
2) Montana heritage center, Helena, $23 million,
3) MSU-Billings, science building, $14.25 million,
4) MSU-Bozeman, classroom renovations, $2.5 million,
5) MSU-Bozeman Ag stations, $1 million,
6) MSU-Great Falls COT, Ag building, $4 million,
7) Veterans’ Home, Butte, $5 million,
8) UM-Missoula COT, new building, $29 million,
9) UM Western, main hall, $4.45 million
10) MSU-Northern, diesel facility, $7.9 million.
Total $97.8 million
HB 635 (Hansen's alternative appropriations bill):
1) UM-Helena COT, lab renovation $150,000,
2) UM-Butte, library renovation $2 million,
3) MSU-Billings, science building, $12.5 million,
4) MSU-Bozeman, Ag stations, $1 million,
5) MSU-Great Falls COT, roof, $600,000,
6) UM-Missoula COT, new facility, $25 million,
7) UM-Western, main hall earthquake damage, 2.2 million,
8) MSU-Northern, diesel facility, $7.5 million.
Total $50.95 million.