April 18, 2017 Legislative Update

The following is the latest from the MSE lobbyist on the latest infrastructure spending.


This should be the final week of the legislature. Infrastructure has been left to the final days (as we have experienced in the last few sessions). SB 335 the Public Private Partnership Bill was defeated 95 to 4 in the House last week. There were some amendments made to the bill in Committee that dramatically changed the bill and then a lot of confusion on the House floor as to the implications. There is a study bill that will be implemented during the Interim and we should continue to follow this issue.

The following is the update from the Infrastructure Coalition regarding the remaining infrastructure legislation:

HB 473 – Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Act The fuel tax bill was passed 3rd Reading in the Senate last week. The bill, however, was heavily amended so it will return to the House for concurrence. If the House fails to concur on the amendments, we head to conference committee.

In the current bill, the tax on gasoline was dropped from $0.08 per gallon down to $0.045 in the first year, and will stair-step up over six years to a high of $0.06. The tax on diesel was dropped from $0.0725 to just $0.015 in the first year and rising to $0.02 over six years. This would amount to a significant decrease in revenues, likely at the local level; however, the bill is now coupled with HB 650 which increases vehicle registration fees and the “Maserati tax” to pay for DMV and the Highway Patrol rather than allocating any fuel tax monies to those functions. If HB 650 passes along with the amended HB 473, MDT would be fully capable of making their federal match, highway patrol would be funded, and the local allocation would range from about $16 million in year one to about $28 million in year six. I have prepared new tables to illustrate this range of allocations by city and county, but want to wait and make sure there are no further modifications before circulating.

Many of you will recall that the “bonding bill” last session failed to pass by a single vote. There was widespread disagreement over whether the legislature should bond or pay cash, and there was consternation about some specific projects included in the bill. This session, there are House and Senate versions of a bonding bill (SB 367-Moore; and HB 645-Cuffe). The House version contains about $20 million less in bonding for local projects and schools, but funds about $78 million in projects. The Senate bill has more for schools and some local projects and comes in at around $98 million. Both bills currently include funding for the VA center and Romney Hall, but exclude the Montana history museum, in Helena. The museum is now contained within HB 660 (see below). HB 645 was tabled in committee, but remains alive and ready for action if the Senate version fails this week. SB 367 has been heard in Senate appropriations and is awaiting executive action this week.

I would anticipate further discussion on the “right” amount of bonding in the bill, and whether MSU should come up with some matching monies for Romney Hall or whether the Legislature will fund the entire project. As a Coalition, we need to support the bill as it comes out of committee, so long as it remains close to its current form.

HB 660 is awaiting 2nd Reading in the Senate. This bill raises the bed tax by one percent, the revenue from which will fund construction of the museum. The Coalition was sitting on the sidelines on this bill until the Hotel and Lodging Association (a Coalition member) agreed to some amendments and came out in support of the bill. We now encourage your active engagement in supporting this bill to ensure that it receives the necessary level of support in both chambers.

Please let me know if you have any questions and I will continue to keep you updated as things evolve this week.