HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) — After Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, sending billions of dollars to Montana, lawmakers quickly drafted House Bill 632 to start the process of spending that money. The bill passed the House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support last week before landing in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee Wednesday.
Kurt Alme, Governor Greg Gianforte’s budget director, said at the bill’s hearing that he understood the breakneck pace may be a lot for lawmakers to take in.
“We’ve equated it to standing at the beach and having a fast moving wave coming at us, and we’re standing there with tea cups trying to catch it all before it hits the sand,” Alme said.
The hearing drew support from representatives for various state agencies, including Jennie Stapp, the state librarian, and Superintendent of Public Schools Elsie Arntzen.
There were also more than 20 supporters from various organizations, each of them asking for more funding for the interests they represent.
The largest portion of the money goes to capital and water projects for a combined $619 million. Another $250 million goes to broadband, cell towers and public safety. Representatives from communications companies were the only opponents at the hearing, asking lawmakers to bring the bill more in line with other broadband bills working through the legislature, such as Senate Bill 297, or the Connect MT Act.
James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.