Shortly before Christmas, men and women across Montana were notified that the road construction projects they were depending on to put presents under the tree this year would be canceled. The jobs they were depending on to provide for their families in 2017 would be lost. The construction of critical state highway projects would be delayed or defunded altogether. Our highway fund is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, and unfortunately it’s just one small part of the budget crisis that Governor Steve Bullock handed the 65th Legislature on day one.
The timing of Governor Bullock’s announcement was not insignificant. While he was running a reelection campaign on job creation, infrastructure and sound fiscal management, he buried a looming crisis facing Montana workers, families and businesses.
Then, just weeks after winning a reelection campaign, the Montana Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a severe budget shortfall that would delay or even cancel $144.5 million of highway projects across the state. It’s also notable that this announcement came around the same time that DOT Director Mike Tooley assured his employees via email that his commitment to them remains a top priority, citing a multi-year trend of increasing hiring and assuring that pay raises and career advancement would remain in tact.
Meanwhile, they cut 30 approved highway infrastructure improvement projects that it had previous knowledge of. To complete these projects, Montana needs to supply $14.5 million to leverage a matching federal grant of $130 million. Montana can choose to leverage these federal funds or sit back and watch the money flow back to Washington, D.C., only to be transferred to other states to build their highways.
Action must be taken swiftly to move my bill – House Bill 203 – to save these projects and the thousands of jobs that they create for the men and women who keep our highways safe.
It’s no easy task finding $14.5 million in our state’s budget, but Republicans in the state legislature are committed to making sure that we don’t lose these federal matching funds while our infrastructure needs pile up.
It is my hope that this bill moves swiftly through the legislature, on to the Governor’s desk and is signed into law. I encourage the people of Montana to contact the Governor and urge him to support these critical infrastructure projects across our state and the thousands of jobs they support.
Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, is speaker pro tempore in the Montana House of Representatives.