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Vets’ home in Legislature’s hands

Vets’ home in Legislature’s hands

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Vets’ home
Veterans who worked on Butte's proposal to site the new southwest Montana veterans' retirement home in Butte raised their hands and were recognized by a group of people attending a press conference Thursday afternoon at the site where the retirement home will be built. Photo by Walter Hinick/Montana Standard

The Montana Legislature is considering a funding plan for the southwest Montana veterans' home in Butte, and a strong show of support is planned during an upcoming hearing.

House Bill 296, sponsored by Butte Rep. Jon Sesso, aims to extend the amount of money collected by the state cigarette tax to cover a federal match of money for the home.

Sesso says veterans from across the state are expected to testify during an upcoming hearing on the bill.

"We're feeling good going into the hearing," he said. "It's a tight budget year so the allocation of these dollars will not be taken lightly."

Sesso already has support of the bill from members of both the House and Senate, and says he's very optimistic about the bill's passage.

"There were many co-sponsors of the bill, certainly all of our colleagues in southwest Montana," he said. "I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to get this done and then be prepared to go after the federal piece knowing Montana has done all it can."

Sesso's bill would lock in the state's funding commitment to the $13.7 million project, with the feds picking up 65 percent of the tab or about $8.9 million.

The state must commit to investing $4.8 million of the tab, or 35 percent, says Sesso.

The veterans' home is a 60-bed facility planned for land south of Three Bears Alaska. It means about 100 jobs for the community and would be the state's third veterans' home.

The other two homes are located in Whitefish and Glendive. A portion of the state's cigarette tax, 8.3 percent, helps fund the operations of the homes, and would also be used for the proposed Butte facility.

Sesso said the state budget office is preparing a fiscal note for the Butte home to determine what impact his bill would have on the general fund.

Sesso's bill would divert 1.2 percent of the cigarette tax to a special fund that would set aside $800,000 per year over the next four years to help pay for constructing the home.

That, combined with money already being diverted from cigarette taxes from a bill Sesso sponsored during the 2009 session, would meet the state's $4.8 million commitment for the project.

Sesso's 2009 bill sunsets in June, which is why this latest proposal plays a key role in meeting the state's commitment for the project.

After the four years, or in 2015, the proposed 1.2 percent set aside outlined in House Bill 296 would also sunset, and future collections of the tax would flow back to the state's general fund.

Following the upcoming hearing on the bill, the house appropriations committee will take executive action deciding whether to advance the legislation for a house vote.

If approved, the Senate would act on the bill.

"We truly have good solid support among the House and Senate members," Sesso said. "It will really be a dollars and cents things; it's just a matter of what we can afford right now."

Sesso believes the Legislature recognizes, however, that the issue is part of a long-range project that advanced during the last session.

"I think they all want to be part of that progress," he said. "Those from southwest Montana and veterans all over the state are very supportive of this project."

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Paul Babb is working closely with Sesso and helping to organize veterans to attend the upcoming hearing (which wasn't scheduled at press time.)

Two buses are prepared to transport veterans to the hearing, Babb said.

The federal portion of the project is already budgeted, and Babb said the state's commitment is vital to the project.

"It's just critical we get this done," he said. "We've been gearing up on this for some time now and we're following it real close."

Dave Palmer, a veteran and chairman of the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners, said he too is following the bill's progress and that he's anticipating its approval.

"I think it will," he said. "But anything could happen in Helena."

To track progress on HB 296, go to http://laws.leg.mt.gov/

- Reporter Justin Post may be reached at Justin.post@lee.net or (406) 496-5572.

 

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