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Gov. Steve Bullock urges infrastructure projects, Medicaid expansion in State of State address

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HELENA, Montana — Gov. Steve Bullock says in order for Montana to flourish state government must provide good roads, 21st century classrooms, safe bridges and clean drinking water. He used his second State of the State address Wednesday evening at the Capitol in Helena to promote his proposal to spend nearly $400 million on infrastructure projects.

The Democrat's Build Montana proposal asks lawmakers to support using a mix of cash and bonding to pay for 280 infrastructure projects and includes $45 million for areas of eastern Montana affected by the Bakken oil boom.

"The challenges are significant ... and that's why I am asking the Legislature to invest significantly more in eastern Montana than the rest of the state," Bullock said.

He also issued a veto threat to members of the Republican-controlled Legislature who have said they'd consider supporting fewer projects and only if paid for in cash.

"Every one of the returning members of the House voted to bond infrastructure projects last session," Bullock said, referring to a bill supporting regional water system projects. "Any infrastructure plan that is paid for by all Montanans, but only benefits some, will be met with a veto."

The state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers in November gave Montana a cumulative grade of C-minus on the state's infrastructure.

House Bill 2, if passed, would support nearly 4,300 jobs with an average annual salary of $51,000 and create $561 million in economic output, according to the Montana Department of Commerce.

Republican Sen. Eric Moore, however, said in a response that they will work to fund critical infrastructure needs.

"Because pork barrel spending is not how things are done in Montana," he said.

Bullock also listed some accomplishments during his administration including an unemployment rate that has fallen in the past two years and 12,000 jobs created in the past year.

He also insists lawmakers leave $300 million in the bank for unforeseen expenses as they did in 2013, which he says has contributed to the state being named the most fiscally responsible.

Bullock, from Helena, is in his first term as governor and is fundraising for a 2016 re-election campaign.

PHOTO: Governor Steve Bullock presents his State of the State speech to a joint session in the house chambers of State Capitol in Helena, Mont. Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015. Bullock touched on expanding health coverage as well as his $400 million infrastructure and urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to overlook partisanship. (AP Photo/The Independent Record, Thom Bridge)
Governor Steve Bullock presents his State of the State speech to a joint session in the house chambers of State Capitol in Helena, Mont. Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015. Bullock touched on expanding health coverage as well as his $400 million infrastructure and urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to overlook partisanship. (AP Photo/The Independent Record, Thom Bridge)

Some of the other issues Bullock mentioned in his address included:


MEDICAID EXPANSION

Medicaid expansion for 70,000 low-income adults in the state, an option through the federal Affordable Care Act, remains one of Bullock's top priorities. He told lawmakers it's time to act after they rejected expansion in 2013. He also said the state is losing money to other states by rejecting the program while sticking hospitals with the cost of uncompensated care. "Don't tell me you don't like government health care — like me, you're taking advantage of taxpayer-funded health insurance by being a legislator," he said.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE:

Bullock says he and Republican Sen. Duane Ankney are partnering to overhaul campaign finance in Montana. Calling the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision "anti-democracy," he denounced "unlimited, secret money" that elections have raised since the 2010 decision. The duo's proposal would disclose "every penny" spent in Montana elections.


TUITION FREEZE:

Bullock told lawmakers to continue to freeze in-state tuition at Montana colleges and universities to make "that degree or certificate much more achievable." He's allocated $44 million in his budget to cover the freeze, which has been in place for the past two years.


EQUAL PAY:

Bullock wants the Montana Legislature to help close Montana's gender wage gap. He says women in Montana earn 74 cents to every dollar a man makes, which is at least 3 cents less than the national average. In one measure, Bullock is asking lawmakers to address a law that cuts short unemployment insurance available to people who leave their jobs to flee domestic violence.


Associated Press reporter Alison Noon contributed to this story.

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