DALLAS -- Montana Gov. Steve Bullock marked Monday's anniversary of the demise of an infrastructure bill that failed last year by a single vote with a call for legislators to pass a $200 million infrastructure measure during next year's session.
Bullock, a first-term Democrat who is seeking reelection in November, said an unspecified mix of bond proceeds and state revenues would support road and bridge projects, water system upgrades, and school improvements.
"My number one priority moving into the 2017 legislative session is once again to invest in infrastructure across the state, and I am calling on every legislator that comes to Helena in January to put Montana jobs over Montana politics and get this done," Bullock said during a press conference in Billings.
Bullock also called for the creation of what he called the Build Montana Trust to fund future infrastructure projects.
The proposed infrastructure fund would be financed with 75% of the revenue from the state's severance tax on coal that goes into the Permanent Coal Trust Fund, which currently holds $958 million. At present, Montana's severance tax collections are split equally between the coal fund and the general revenue fund.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte dismissed Bullock's $200 million proposal as an election-year stunt.
"The governor had four years to get this done, and we've seen no outcome," he said. "Bullock's failed leadership is exactly why Montana hasn't seen an infrastructure bill."
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a recent report on the state that Montana needs to spend $14.8 billion to maintain and replace roads and bridges over the next 20 years. However, projected funding would meet only 25% of the needs, the group said. Replacing the water and wastewater infrastructure in the state, much of which was installed 75 to 100 years ago, would add another $10 billion to the infrastructure investment backlog, ASCE said.
"On average, the total reinvestment in water and sewer infrastructure is $165 million per year," the ASCE report said. "At this level of re-investment, it will take 70 to 90 years to replace this infrastructure, and it may not last that long."
Bullock blamed Republican lawmakers for the lack of progress on resolving the state's infrastructure backlog.
"For two legislative sessions in a row I've proposed significant, if not historic, infrastructure investments that would strengthen our communities, create jobs and grow our economy," Bullock said. "And in both of those sessions, a small group of legislators were able to stop thousands of Montanans from going to work, thousands of jobs dead in their tracks for no other reason than political gamesmanship."
A $150 million infrastructure proposal fell one vote short of passage in the Montana House during the 2015 legislative session despite overwhelming support in the state Senate. Bullock vetoed a $35 million Republican infrastructure proposal in 2013.
Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings, said two projects accounted for much of the spending in the 2015 bill.
"It was an expensive, pork-filled piece of legislation, and over a third of it was for two buildings that were pet projects," said Zolnikov, who voted against the measure. "It would not have solved many problems."