Pending governor's approval, state decides to pay cash for new campus
The Legislature wrapped up what will likely be its last full week of the session by approving funding for Missoula College Saturday. Both chambers of the Legislature have now approved the bill, and it will be passed to the Gov. Steve Bullock’s office.
The Senate voted last week to add Missoula College and a building project for Montana State University-Billings onto House Bill 5, a cash bill. The House of Representatives approved the Senate’s amendments Saturday with a 72-27 vote.
Both projects were originally attached to House Bill 14, the JOBS bill, but the Legislature batted them around, debating whether to pay with cash or bonding, and finally moved them to HB5 just in time to be approved this session.
“House Bill 5 is now effectively the JOBS bill,” said Asa Hohman, lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
“It passed as a cash bill, HB5, rather than a bonding bill, HB14,” Hohman explained. “Nothing’s really changed — same buildings, same jobs.”
But two big projects from HB14 — a new Montana Historical Society building in Helena and the MSU-Bozeman Romney Hall classroom renovation project — still don’t have funding, Hohman said.
Once the Legislature gets HB5 to Bullock, he can sign it into law, veto it, let it become law without his signature or change it, which would require approval from both houses. The Legislature would have to be in session to review the changes, and the governor could call a special session for that purpose.
April 27 is scheduled as the final day of this legislative session, but the lawmakers might choose to adjourn early if they’ve finished the work on their desks.
Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula and Hohman said they expect this session will end Wednesday.
Wanzenried has been critical of UM for not committing to doing an environmental impact statement to assess the effects of a Missoula College expansion before beginning the project.
He said he doesn’t expect the governor will change HB5.
“I don’t think it will be processed in time to go to the governor before the end of this Legislative session,” Wanzenried said. “But given the margins of the votes, I think he’ll sign it.”
Bullock’s office wouldn’t comment directly on his plans for the bill.
Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said he’s excited the Legislature was able to pass funding for Missoula College this session.
“It’s very exhilarating to finally get this to the governor’s desk,” Bennett said.
In addition to providing $29 million for Missoula College, the Legislature also approved three other projects for UM in HB5, totaling $15 million.
Those projects — the Gilkey Executive Education Center, the Athlete Academic Center and updates to Mansfield Library’s learning commons — will be privately funded, according to Kevin McRae, associate commissioner for communications for the Montana University System Board of Regents.
“But we still need legislative authority to proceed with those projects,” McRae said. “Because that’s the way the state’s long-range building plan works.”
The Athlete Academic Center will be a two-story study center for student athletes, added to the Adams Center, costing $2.5 million.
The Gilkey Executive Education Center, which cost $9.3 million, will be the site for management leadership classes sponsored by the School of Buisness Administration, the new office of the UM Foundation, and Global Leadership Initiative events.