Montana's new governor will be in Havre Thursday to look at an issue the local university has been pushing for years — replacing a decades-old building that was out of date when it was erected in the 1950s.
"I got a call this morning, " Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh said Tuesday during a legislative video conference in Havre. "Gov. (Steve) Bullock is coming to the campus on Thursday.
"He is calling the bonding bill, he is taking a portion of it and calling it his jobs bill, and he is coming to campus and look at the needs that we have for the auto and diesel building, " Limbaugh said.
He said support from the legislators to approve funding — and to increase the state's share to reduce the $3 million Bullock is proposing Northern raise for the project — is critical.
The new building has been approved for several years, but funding for it has been shot down over the last few years.
In 2007 Gov. Brian Schweitzer cut part of an $800,000 appropriation for planning and design for the building, but the university was able to find ways to complete that process despite the cut. The design, which is for a building that would house three of Northern's most successful programs — diesel, automotive and farm mechanics — would create a completely modern, state-of-the-art facility.
In the contentious 2011 legislative session, funding for the building went back and forth. It first was left out of the state bonding bill, then $7.9 million was added for Northern's project and it passed the House.
It passed the Senate, with amendments, and then failed to pass the House as amended, with legislators saying the price tag — some $98 million total for the bill — was too high.
The bonding bill must pass with a two-thirds majority.
Limbaugh said Bullock will tour at 11 a. m. the Applied Technology Center, the state-of-the-art facility erected early last decade, then tour the auto-diesel facility and talk to students about the need for the new auto-diesel technology building.
Limbaugh said he has doubts that Northern could raise the $3 million to build the building, that would be in addition to the state bonding, that Bullock proposes.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, pointed out that Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre — who had to leave the session early to listen to information on a school funding bill proposed by Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad — has requested a bill to fund the Northern building as a stand-alone project.
"I believe our Legislature would support and pass that, " Warburton said. "I know my party would. "
She added that what she believes killed the bonding bill last session was the inclusion of selling bonds to build a new Montana Historical Society museum in Helena.
"So, if that's still in there, that will make it a lot tougher, " she said.
Hansen has said in previous interviews that she believes that finding smaller projects with smaller total price tags is more likely to pass than massive bonding bills to fund multiple projects.
Limbaugh said that is not how Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian is approaching the issue.
"He is really focused focusing on the college affordability plan and the bonding bill, " he said. "Those are his two big deals, and he is looking at it all as a package.
"I understand what Rep. Hansen is doing, but I also know that the commissioner is looking at it more broadly, ours along with everybody else's, " Limbaugh added.
Sen. Greg Jergeson said that, to gain support of two-thirds of the Legislature, the bill needs broad support.
"I have been through the Hall of Mathematics of the bonding bill and the long-range building several times over the years, " he said, "and the math is not conducive to passing a bonding bill for single projects. "
He said the reality is that the bill needs support from many parts of the state.
"You need the two-thirds majority, " he said. "That becomes, its a very difficult kind of proposition to achieve.
"I'm going to be doing everything I can to make sure that we have a comprehensive and rational long-range building program that two-thirds of the legislature can adopt, and I am hoping that they are persuaded that a greater percentage of the Northern project is bonded, " he added.
Limbaugh said he perceives the Legislature's mood as focusing on job creation and economic development, and the new building would help provide that.
"It is of vital importance to the institution that you all focus out in terms of advocating, not only for ours, but everybody else's too, " he said. "A lot of thought went into putting that package together. "
The weekly legislative video conference sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Havre Public Schools will move to a different location for its mid-February session to allow a group of Havre High School students to join in.
Chamber Executive Director Debbie Vandeberg said during Tuesday's video conference that the Havre Leadership High School group will be doing a legislative session Feb. 19 and will meet with legislators via video at the Hill County Electric-Triangle Communication building west of Havre.
Havreite Karen Sloan suggested looking at raising funds to send the class to Helena, which Vandeberg said the program now lacks funds to do.
Vandeberg said she is willing to work on funding that idea, and discussing the logistics with Havre Public School officials, although she said it probably could not happen this legislative session.