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Montana Legislators End Session with Mixed Results for TBED (Technology Based Economic Development)

May 7, 2009View for printing

The Montana Legislature adjourned last week after passing an $8 billion biennial budget for FY10 and FY11. The state Department of Commerce was allocated $74.9 million over the biennium, $1.7 million more than the governor's request. Newly funded initiatives within the department include $3.7 million over the biennium for workforce training grants through the New Worker Training program, $1.6 million for tribal economic development projects, $2 million for high-performance computing and $2.5 million in FY10 for biomedical research grants. No funding was provided for the Montana Fund-of-Funds, which was created under the 2005 Montana Equity Capital Act but has yet to be funded.

Because fewer than 100 legislators voted in favor of the appropriations bill, Governor Schweitzer retains line item authority for the budget.

One of the more contentious issues during the budget negotiations concerned tuition hikes and funding for Montana universities and community colleges. Gov. Brian Schweitzer favors a freeze on tuition rates at state schools, but university leaders have argued that state funding has proved insufficient. The FY10-11 budget reduces funding for the state higher education system, but the governor is encouraging the Board of Regents to retain the current cap on tuitions.

Full text of the appropriations bill is available at: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2009/billhtml/HB0002.htm

A bill approved by the legislature in late April would reduce the state's statutory appropriation for several economic development programs through 2019. HB123 reduces funding for the state Department of Agriculture's Growth through Agriculture program by $625,000 over the next biennium and reduces funding for the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization by $2.38 million. These cuts represent reductions of 40 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Gov. Schweitzer has yet to sign or veto the bill.

The full text of HB123 is available at: http://tinyurl.com/cw2nyp

In April, the governor released the details of his plan to invest the estimated $800 million coming to the state through the federal government's Recovery and Reinvestment Act over the next 28 months. His plan includes $53 million for energy and weatherization initiatives, including $26 million for the 20X10 Initiative, which aims to reduce energy consumption at state agencies. Another $51 million would go to Montana universities and community colleges and help freeze tuition. Job training and workforce development would receive $12.6 million and rural broadband initiatives would get $5 million. Gov. Schweitzer believes the investments will help to create 11,000 new jobs and help spur economic growth. The plan was approved by the legislature at the end of the session and now awaits the governor's signature. On Tuesday, the governor vetoed a measure to create a state-sponsored website to monitor stimulus spending.

The full text of HB645 is available at: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2009/billhtml/HB0645.htm

On Wednesday, Gov. Schweitzer signed a bill related to the underground storage of carbon dioxide that previously he had promised to veto. The bill died in committee in April, but was later passed with significant changes. Under the new law, oversight of carbon sequestration would be shifted from the Board of Environmental Review to the Board of Oil and Gas. Land owners, in this case coal power producers, would own the underground "pore space" where the carbon is stored and would be responsible for monitoring that space for 30 years. The land then would be turned over to the state, subject to state approval.

Two other energy bills still await the governor's consideration. SB403 would make it easier for large utility companies to meet their obligation to purchase electricity from renewable sources and renewable energy credits. The second bill, SB257, would allow a hydroelectric dam upgrade owned by PPL Montana to incur renewable energy credits, to apply retroactively back to 2004. The state's wind energy producers are encouraging the governor to veto both utility-sponsored bills, arguing that they would render the state's renewable energy quotas meaningless. SB403 would allow large utilities to avoid buying either renewable energy or credits and SB257 would flood the state market for the credits, opponents say.

The Missoulian is tracking the status of these bills at: http://www.missoulian.com/legislature_sub/.

A Publication of the State Science and Technology Institute SSTI, 5015 Pine Creek Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081 Phone: (614) 901-1690 http://www.ssti.org
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