Controversial House Bill 14 would raise $29 million dollars in bonds for Missoula College
After months of debate in Missoula, state legislators are reviewing a bill that could finally determine the location and funding of the proposed Missoula College.
ASUM President Zachary Brown and vice president Bryn Hagfors spent part of winter break in the Capitol talking to legislators about the college.
“In Helena, it seems like Missoula College is all there is to talk about,” Hagfors said. “There’s a ton of buzz going on about it.”
Much of that buzz is from House Bill 14, which would raise $29 million in bonds to help build the $47 million college. Hagfors attended a subcommittee meeting on the bill Monday morning.
“It has a very strong chance of passing out of subcommittee,” Hagfors said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
If the subcommittee approves the bill, it will move to the full House Appropriations Committee. If it passes the full committee, it would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass the Senate and House because bonding requires the state to take on debt.
The subcommittee will likely vote on the bill later this week.
While Hagfors said he hopes the bill will pass, not all Missoulians support HB-14. The group Advocates For Missoula’s Future has been a vocal critic of the plan to build the college on part of the UM golf course.
“We do not want to appear as obstructionists,” said Sally Peterson, an AFMF volunteer who is pursuing a doctorate in community college leadership and administration. “We want a Missoula College, just a different location.”
Peterson said if HB-14 passes, the location discussion will be over because the funding will be available to start building on the golf course.
Instead, Peterson thinks the west campus at Fort Missoula should be expanded and the entire Missoula College should be unified at that location. She said this plan would give the college room to grow, keep the golf course open for recreational use and avoid over-crowding the university district.
Peterson also said she believes the west campus would be a better site for the college to increase the number of programs offered.
“A two-year college doesn’t have to be just culinary arts and health,” Peterson said, adding that community colleges function better independently.
Hagfors contends that it would be better to keep the college close to the main campus because Missoula College students pay the same fees as four-year students, so they should have equal access to services like recreational facilities, advising and ASUM.
While others debate the location, Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, said he is more concerned with finding a way to fund the college without taking on debt through bonding. He said a new Missoula College is necessary, but he wants to pay for it by establishing a state savings account for this type of project.
“We’ll build the things that we need to build,” Edmunds said, “But we shouldn’t borrow money to do it.”