Montana can’t afford hefty match required in Trump’s infrastructure plan, Tester says

by Missoula Current, Martin Kidston

President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan and its call for an 80 percent project match would unfairly hurt rural states where a large private sector is lacking and resources are thin, Sen. Jon Tester said.

Over the past few weeks, Tester has solicited feedback from Montana counties regarding their infrastructure needs, ranging from roads and bridges to water projects. None of those localities are capable of providing the match called for in the president’s proposal.

“All those things cost money, and you’re not going to do it with an 80 percent match coming from state and local government,” Tester said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan would allocate $200 billion over 10 years to address the nation’s mounting infrastructure needs, which in Montana could run in the tens of billions of dollars.

But it would also shift the funding burden to states and local governments by requiring them to match 80 percent of a project’s cost to get 20 percent from the federal government. Tester doesn’t believe that approach will work in Montana and other states where revenue is limited.

“The proposal the president put out, I think, unfairly hurts rural states like Montana, because we don’t have the private sector dollars out there to match up, and we don’t have the money within our state or county government to match up. It makes for a good press release and darned little infrastructure getting built.”

In response to the senator’s call for feedback, Missoula County commissioners have outlined their own infrastructure needs, which range from a backlog of deferred road maintenance to next-generation 9-1-1 technology.

While some populous states could implement toll roads and other fees to cover their portion of a project’s cost, Tester said it wouldn’t work in Montana. New York City and Scobey aren’t the same, he said.

“Montana is in a situation where our Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, and that’s a very good thing,” he said. “But because of that, there’s not a lot of cash lying around. Look at the last special session we had – and Montana is one of the states that’s in better financial shape than many states in the Union.”

A 2011 survey conducted by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said it would cost $885 million to fix aging and failing municipal water systems across the state, while a 2008 report by the same agency placed the cost of repairing wastewater systems at $587 million.

A Transportation Needs Survey conducted by MDOT in 2012 found that $14.8 billion was needed to take care of Montana’s roadway system and bridges. Expecting state and local governments to provide 80 percent of those costs is unrealistic, Tester said.

“Our state and local communities just don’t have the cash to do that alone,” Tester said. “They need help. In Montana, there’s not a lot of capital laying around and toll roads don’t work. Montana is going to need a robust infrastructure program that has a robust infrastructure dollar investment.”