Senator Tester working on behalf of rural counties

Colin Murphey

by Mineral Independent

WASHINGTON D.C. – According to information provided by U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s office last week, the senator plans on introducing bipartisan legislation to fully fund two initiatives to help support financially strapped rural Montana areas such as Mineral County.

According to a press release from Tester’s office, the senator plans on presenting a bill for consideration that would reauthorize Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment-in-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) federal funding for three years at the level provided in 2011. Rural counties in Montana received $23 million in 2011. Mineral County has, in past years, received approximately $1.2 million but because Congress failed to reauthorize SRS funding this year, the county was allocated just a little over $65,000.

Tester’s bill would also establish permanent, fully funded PILT which, according to the press release, would eliminate “the volatility that county budgets face during the annual budget process.”

The press release went on to say, “The failure to reauthorize these initiatives caused counties to withdraw money from reserve accounts to pay for essential services, like infrastructure and education, and may force counties to lay off essential employees.”

“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.”

SRS funding was established in 2000 to support rural schools and counties that used to rely upon tax revenue from logging operations that have almost completely ceased in areas like Mineral County. SRS funding helps support more than 30 counties in Montana and was designed to help counties that are primarily comprised of federal land.

The press release also stated, “PILT payments are made to 55 Montana counties with federal lands that are not taxable by local governments, but the lands’ presence creates demands for local government services like law enforcement and infrastructure. Full funding for PILT payments expired in 2014. Congress provided nearly full funding of $405 million for the current fiscal year, but future funding for the program is not guaranteed.

Together, these initiatives contribute approximately $50 million every year to local Montana communities.”
Information regarding the status of the bill or when it might come up for debate was not immediately available.