GREAT FALLS — The soon-to-be new home of Hub International Insurance in Great Falls served as the backdrop Thursday morning as U.S. Senator Jon Tester and civic and business leaders talked about the federal infrastructure bill.
Sletten Construction president Erik Sletten talked about the impact the plan could have on the construction industry: "We see the deficiencies that exist out there in the infrastructure side of things. That’s in the bridge, highway, water, wastewater side of things. There’s just so many needs on that side of things to be able to upgrade those facilities. The dollars are enormous that are needed."
He said if the bill doesn't pass, it will create a process of "band-aiding" things.
"You'll take things off in small bites as you go forward and it leaves the things that are unspoken, really, out there. The Milk River Water Project is in dire need,” Sletten explained. "It needs an investment the size of $100 million to really make it work and it will only get the dollars when it's an emergency."
The plan passed the Senate in August, and and now goes to the House of Representatives.
Sen. Tester is confident it will also pass the House: "I think you get it on the floor (of the House), it's going to pass. I think there's bi-partisan support in the House. I’ve talked to Democrats and Republicans over there that think this is the right thing to do. It’s going to be a very similar make up, I believe, as what it took to pass the Senate. The President’s already made a commitment to sign it if it gets to his desk."
He supports separating the vote on the plan from the vote on the larger budget bill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed to do. "I think they're two different pieces of legislation and there's no real reason to couple them together,” said Tester. "I think what it does is if reconciliation gets hung up, which it could, this bill still goes forward."
Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly and Great Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Shane Etzwiler also talked Thursday in support of the infrastructure bill.
Tester said if the plan is signed into law by the end of September, money could start flowing by the end of the year.