I have mentioned HB 632 before but its progress has been unknown until this week. I will recount the work on the Beast as we know it. I have had the opportunity to be in the many meetings held during the last two weeks, including every Saturday and Sunday.
First, let me bring one misconception to the surface. We do not have 2.74 billion dollars to apply as we see fit. This is very typical of federal funds in that there are strings attached to most of the money. We are told where it will be applied by definition of the category. This is especially true in the funds for Health and Human Services and Education.
I’m not saying we don’t have a sizable dollar total we can apply to water and sewer projects and broadband infrastructure. We do, but it is less than a third of the total funds sent to the state by the federal ARPA bill. Additionally, many of the dollars have date restrictions we have to follow- most of the funds must be spent or contracted by 2024.
The bill will be put together on Monday with the intention of getting it sent to the Senate before Easter break. To do that we have to have it read on the floor Monday afternoon and have third reading by Wednesday if no amendments are added.
As it stands today, Sunday, the bill is divided into three main sections, sometimes called silos. They are communications- primarily broadband and cell towers, infrastructure- primarily water and sewer projects and health-primarily HHS projects.
With the first two sections a match will be required. Depending on the project and size of the dollars received by the city and/ or county from the feds 25% of those funds or a one-to-one match is the plan. If the local government isn’t willing to match the funds, they will not participate in the bigger dollars either. Skin In the game as well as being close to shovel ready are important as is the effort to have the smaller localities have equal footing with the big boys.
Some funds will be distributed based on the gas tax formula but much of the funding will be done by application. The form will be easier to produce than the current TSEP application, but emergency needs will be a major part of the decision about who gets the extra funding.
One more important factor in the use of the funds is that we are applying ARPA funds to all the long range approved requests, thus freeing up more money for the next legislature to apply to infrastructure. We are not planning on returning any funds to the feds because the money will not go back to the treasury but instead would go to another state. Since that is the case, why not use all the funds to help fill needs in Montana?
Is the bill perfect? NO. Can we keep working on it in the Senate? YES. No projects outside of the required ones or the long-range bills will be listed in the bill so do not be alarmed if your pet project doesn’t appear.