Tester rallies for emergency funding for rural Montana

Senator demands money for rural schools, Montana's drug task forces

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today stood up for rural Montana again, pressuring his colleagues to support two key programs in an upcoming emergency funding measure.

Tester urged the Senate to restore funding for the Secure Rural Schools Act and for federal efforts that fund Montana's drug-fighting task forces.

The Secure Rural Schools Act provides money to many western Montana counties that traditionally relied on revenue from timber harvesting.  Due to regulations and cutbacks in the timber industry, the counties now rely on Secure Rural Schools to operate rural schools and to maintain roads.

Tester said without the Secure Rural Schools program, rural communities and rural education will suffer.

"Less money for rural schools means less opportunity for our rural students, lower teacher pay, bigger classroom size, fewer activities—and students will start to fall behind," Tester said during a speech on the Senate floor this morning.  "Rural America's students deserve the same opportunities as their urban counterparts, and this program helps them to keep pace."

Tester also demanded funding for Justice Assistance Grants and Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (often referred to simply as "JAG/Byrne" grants).  Federal JAG/Byrne grants are awarded to local law enforcement agencies to help fight crime, purchase equipment, hire extra officers and to prosecute criminals.

Most of Montana's drug task forces rely on JAG/Byrne funding.  After President Bush proposed cutting $350 million from the task forces, Tester invited cops, sheriffs and agents from across the state to attend his Montana Drugbusters' Summit in Great Falls one month ago today.

The law enforcement officers told Tester the President's cut would cripple their ability to keep drugs out of Montana's rural communities.

"Without the restoration of this funding, our efforts to limit drugs in Montana and throughout the country will be devastated," Tester said today.  "Our children's exposure to drugs and crime will be increased, and our families will be torn apart.  Montana can't afford it.  No state can."

The upcoming emergency spending measure would also fund billions of dollars for the Iraq War.