After cutting Missoula College from House Bill 5 late last week, the Montana Senate put the project back on the bill Monday — a concession in the legislative stalemate that kept the fate of the project uncertain.
As the legislative session draws to a close, the two houses are divided over how to pay for a new Missoula College building, kicking the item around from bill to bill. The House refused to take on debt to build the college, and the Senate refused to pay cash.
After the Senate Finance and Claims Committee voted Friday to remove Missoula College and three other expensive building projects from HB5, a cash bill for long-range building projects, the college was left without a bill to carry it over the weekend.
But the full Senate voted Monday to add the $29 million Missoula College and a $10 million Montana State University-Billings science building back into the bill.
The other two building projects, the renovation of a Montana State University gymnasium and a new building for the Montana Historical Society in Helena, are still not included in HB5.
Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, was the only Democratic senator to vote against putting Missoula College back into HB5.
Wanzenried said the state’s general fund, which pays for the projects in HB5, may not support those pricier projects without cutting something else. He said he worries about the potential environmental impact of the new Missoula College.
“Nobody really understands all of the impacts that are going to result,” Wanzenreid said. “Once the building’s put there, it’s going to be there, in comparative terms, forever.”
Wanzenried wants UM to commit to doing an environmental review before he would support funding the project by any means — cash or bonding.
An Environmental Impact Statement is an in-depth analysis of the effects a project will have on the natural and social environments of an area. This includes air and noise pollution, traffic, animal and plant habitats and open space.
ASUM President Zach Brown said while he agrees the University should do an EIS, Wanzenried’s demand is out of place.
“The Legislature’s job, and Sen. Wanzenried’s job, is to fund the project during this session,” Brown said. “It is then the University’s job and the community’s job to decide on the location and work out all those issues about (environmental) impact.”
The Legislature can mandate an EIS at a later time or recommended by the Architecture and Engineering Division of the State Department of Administration, according to Kevin McRae, associate commissioner for communications and human resources of the Board of Regents.
If either of those happens, McRae said the University and the BOR would readily comply.
Originally, the funding for Missoula College was in House Bill 14, also known as the JOBS bill, which Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, introduced on behalf of Gov. Steve Bullock. The House failed to transmit HB14 to the Senate because it hasn’t been able to get the super-majority required to pass a bill that requires the state to take on debt.
Hollenbaugh said unless Bullock asks, he likely won’t revive HB14 now that Missoula College, one of the central projects of the JOBS bill, has a home again. Several more supermajority votes would be needed in both houses to restore HB14.
The Senate’s final vote on HB5 will come Tuesday, Hollenbaugh said.
If the Senate passes the bill, it will go back to the House for confirmation by its sponsor, Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip. If Ankney accepts the Senate’s amendment, the bill needs to pass the House before landing on the Bullock’s desk. If Ankney does not accept the changes, senators and representatives on a joint committee have to compromise on a plan.