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Parties divided on State of the State, infrastructure plans

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By Michael Wright

Community News Service

UM School of Journalism

HELENA — In the middle of the fourth week of the 64th Montana Legislature, Gov. Steve Bullock took the rostrum in the House of Representatives with a big smile.

“The state of our state is strong,” Bullock said, beginning his State of the State address.

Bullock touted his fiscal discipline and pushed his big legislative priorities, getting multiple standing ovations from Democrats and occasional claps from a few Republicans.

He called for investment in infrastructure, early education and mental health care. He urged the Legislature to pass his “Healthy Montana” plan, which would expand Medicaid to as many as 70,000 uninsured Montanans.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Moore, R-Miles City, gave the Republican response in the Senate chambers shortly after the Bullock’s speech. Moore criticized the Governor for wanting to expand “broken” government programs, and said the Healthy Montana plan would give free health care to “able-bodied, childless adults.”

The official response wasn’t the only Republican pushback on the Governor last week.

In a press conference Thursday, Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, announced a Republican plan to split Gov. Bullock’s infrastructure plan, the “Build Montana Act,” or House Bill 5, into separate bills.

Republicans didn’t like that the Governor stuffed all of the infrastructure projects in one bill, and want to pay for them with cash instead of borrowing money by selling bonds.

Cuffe announced the introduction of five bills that include some of the projects from the HB 5, funding them with existing cash. Preliminary numbers say the Republican plan will use slightly less cash than Bullock’s did, but the bills don’t include all the projects.

Cuffe said all the projects are important, and will be included in bonding bills that will come later.

House Bill 5 has been in committee for more than two weeks. People from across the state came to testify on the bill in support of projects affecting their areas – like rebuilding roads, updating water systems and improvements to university buildings. 

With the new Republican bills, those who testified may have to take another trip to Helena to support their projects.

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