Head Of National Governor's Association Says Infrastructure Has Been Neglected 'Long Enough'

May 18, 2017

Scott Pattison is executive director and CEO of the National Governor's Association. Pattison stopped by the YPR studios to visit with Jackie Yamanaka.
Credit Kay Erickson

The head of the National Governors Associations says there’s bi-partisan consensus that infrastructure has been neglected. Scott Pattison says infrastructure includes everything from broadband to road and bridges.  

“We've neglected it long enough that we were looking at hundreds of billions of needs. You can't just magically come up with the money for that,” said Pattison.

Montana’s last legislative session ended without approving Senate Bill 367, which would have allowed infrastructure improvements throughout the state through bonding. The improvements would have included a veteran’s home, campus repairs and money for schools and irrigation projects. At the end of the session, lawmakers could not agree.

Infrastructure dilapidation is not an issue exclusive to Montana. Across the nation, states have to find solutions to infrastructure issues through measures such as bonding. Although not all states kick the can down the road, some states are concerned about where the money would come from, and who will be left holding the bill.

“What you're seeing across the country, if you compare Montana to other states, is a very similar concern about debt, and I think that's definitely understandable. I think a lot of people across the country see the high debt at the federal level and they are very concerned about debt in every area of government.”

Pattison added that each state ultimately has to decide what is best for them. “There's some states that probably should do no bonding at the moment because of high-debt levels, and others may want to consider bonds in appropriated uses.”

One of the iron bridges across the Musselshell River.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Pattison also highlighted a major difference between debt at the federal level and debt that would occur at the state level. The difference is between operating costs and usable assets.

“The debt at the federal level is almost exclusively debt that's used for operating expenses in any given year. Bonds though when issued by states are actually debt that pays for an asset for long period of times, so there is a distinction between the federal debt and bonded debt that a state would issue.”

Pattison said that there is a likelihood that there will be federal infrastructure legislation in the future, perhaps within a year, and states will need to be ready. “There is likely to be the requirement of matching funds, and so states will have to make the decision that in some cases they may have to issue debt so that they have enough money to match federal funds.”