Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Infrastructure bill includes billions for Montana

by Alex Miller

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, heralded as a once-in-a-century spending plan, passed the Senate in a rare showing of bipartisan support on Tuesday, including billions in investment for Montana.

The Senate voted 69-30 on the expansive bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which directs money toward transportation needs, water projects, broadband expansion, border security, wildfire management and beefing up resources for floods and drought. The sweeping bill would tack on roughly $550 billion in new federal spending over the next five years.

Montana could receive roughly $2.8 billion for the state’s highways, along with $144 million for airports around the state. More than $42.5 billion would be made available through grants for areas around the country with little to no broadband access. Additionally, hundreds of millions of dollars could be available for rural water projects.

“Montana has done very, very well with this bill,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said on Tuesday in a call with reporters.

Rural water projects authorized through the Bureau of Reclamation would receive around $1 billion. Projects in the Fort Peck, Rocky Boy and Mussel Shell-Judith rural water systems would receive roughly $271 million. Just over $3 billion could be set aside for reducing wildfire risks, including a combined $1 billion for prescribed fires to lower fuel loads and large fire risks, and mechanical thinning.

Tester, along with a bipartisan team of 10 senators – five Democrats and five Republicans – greased the stiff gears of partisanship to create the deal.

Along with the five core Republicans, a total of 19 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Look, when I go home I’m often told ‘why can’t you guys get along, why can’t you work together,'” Tester said. “Well, we did. I’m proud of the work of this bipartisan group of senators, who have worked together for the last four months to get something done that will not only build infrastructure in the state but is fiscally responsible.”

As for how the bill would be paid for, diverting money from last year’s CARES Act, delaying a Medicare rebate rule and building up tax requirements for cryptocurrencies are on the list of options for paying for the $550 billion in new spending.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines voted against the bill, pointing to findings in a report from the Congressional Budget Office that the bill would add more than $250 billion of debt over the next 10 years.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, especially at a time when Montana families are already dealing with soaring inflation and skyrocketing prices on everything from gas to groceries,” Daines said in a statement.

Before the bill hits President Joe Biden’s desk for approval, it has to make its way through the House of Representatives, which just hit its August recess. And before that, Senate Democrats hope to push forward a $3.5 trillion social infrastructure package through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow for a simple majority of votes and avoid time-consuming filibusters.

But for now, the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act has cleared its first major hurdle by passing through the Senate.

“We always talk about leaving this place better than we found it for our kids and our grandkids, and this is a step in doing exactly that,” Tester said.