Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The speaker of the Montana House of Representatives said Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee had sent Montana’s spending bill to the floor of the House and is preparing to start work next week on how to spend federal money coming to the state through the federal stimulus package passed by Congress, Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said House Bill 2, the state's general appropriations bill, should be discussed on the House floor Monday and Tuesday. “I’d like to get it done Wednesday so we can keep this thing moving along,” he said Wednesday during a video conference held in the Robins Administration Building. The discussion of the federal stimulus money could involve several projects in north-central Montana, including a proposed industrial park, said people attending the video conference. Bergren said the Legislature is taking care to make sure the appropriations bill and the economic stimulus package are crafted so future spending does not depend on the stimulus money, but considers it one-time funding. “This is kick-start money, startup money,” he said. The money can be used for many infrastructure projects that have needed work in the state for years, Bergren said, including many water and sewer projects. Bergren said he is pleased with the appropriations bill, including its fully funding the Healthy Kids Initiative, a proposal to increase health care coverage for some 30,000 Montana children through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That initiative passed overwhelmingly in November's general election, but funding of the plan was initially blocked in the Legislature. Bergren said the budget includes some cuts, primarily in proposed spending increases, and that he expects few changes when the budget Is debated on the floor of the House. The budget was carefully worked over while in committee, he said. “It was a long negotiation on both sides of the aisle,” Bergren said. The debate in the House later this week will involve discussions in several committees about allocating the money coming to Montana through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, called the Jobs Bill by its proponents. The Associated Press reports that legislators Wednesday saw Gov. Brian Schweitzer's plan on how to use the $300 million of the federal money headed the state's way. The rest, some $500 million, is earmarked to specific programs with the largest chunk set for transportation projects. Several Havre officials asked about trying to get part of the Jobs Bill money, with encouragement from Bergren. Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson and Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss said they would be in Helena this morning to talk to the Legislature about getting funds for the Agro- Energy Industrial Park planned south of Havre, west of Fort Assinniboine. Construction of the park is planned on land donated to the county by Dave VanderGriend of Idaho. Anderson said the county had received a draft copy of a preliminary engineering report on developing the industrial park, planned to be used for businesses related to alternative energy and value-added agriculture. The report estimates the cost of developing infrastructure at the park at $650,000, with an additional $2.2 million needed to develop a railroad spur line for the site. Tuss said Tony Preite, director of the state Department of Commerce, said his department could possibly fund up to $350,000 of the estimated $650,000 for infrastructure development. He said he hoped the remaining $300,000 could be funded through Jobs Bill money. Bergren said he thinks the project fits the requirements of the Jobs Bill, being a project the money could fund to immediately put people to work developing the park and creating new businesses once it is ready. The development of the railroad spur line is also under discussion with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, said Pam Lemer, value-added agriculture coordinator for Bear Paw Development. Other projects discussed included finding funding for repairs to the roof at the Havre Middle School. Havre Superintendent Dennis Parman asked about using Jobs Bill money for the project, which is now being planned by the Havre school district. Rep. Dan Villa, D-Anaconda, chair of the House Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said that project might fit better under the Treasure State Endowment Program administered by the Department of Commerce. He said many construction projects seem to fit better for the $43 million in education construction projects, including the plans to rebuild the high school in Huntley Project, destroyed by a fire in September. Parman also asked about a bill sponsored by Villa, HB 15, which would provide a 3 percent increase in base funding and per-student funding for K-12 schools in the 2011 funding cycle. Villa said the Appropriations Committee had just heard the bill Wednesday. Bergren said he is confident the bill would come back to the floor from the committee the House had already approved the bill on its second reading before it was referred to the Appropriations Committee, he said.