Tester introduces bill to restore local timber tax funding


by Dennis Bragg

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Jon Tester is taking another crack at passing legislation to continue sharing federal timber revenues, a program that means millions of dollars in critical funding for local counties.

The Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs have become key components to county budgets since they were established years ago as an agreement with the federal government to share timber tax revenues. That’s been especially critical to counties here in the West where millions of acres are exempt from local property taxes.

The funds are used for a variety of local items, from roads to school funding and even law enforcement. But as competition for dollars has increased, so has federal criticism of the program.

The SRS program stopped in 2013 and last fall, Congress refused to reauthorize the money. That has county officials concerned, with $23 million at stake in Western Montana counties alone.

Tester has now introduced a bipartisan bill to fully fund the two programs for the next three years at the same amounts last set in 2011. The bill would also establish permanent funding for PILT in an effort to get rid of the uncertainty for county budgets

“Counties across Montana are taking a hit, because some in Congress don’t understand rural America. My bill will make sure that Montana counties can provide the essential services that keep our local economies strong,” Tester said. “PILT and SRS help ensure counties can continue to provide safe roads and bridges, law enforcement, and a quality education.”

Senators Wyden (D-Ore.), Crapo (R-Idaho), Risch (R-Idaho), Merkley (D-Ore.), Udall (D-N.M.), Bennet (D-Colo.) and McCaskill (D-Mo.) are co-sponsors.