Tester introduces bipartisan legislation to fully fund SRS, PILT

New bill provides Montana rural counties certainty and addresses recent budget shortfalls

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is introducing bipartisan legislation to fully fund two essential initiatives that support Montana rural counties, Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)

Tester’s bill reauthorizes SRS payments for three years at the level provided in 2011. Montana’s rural counties received nearly $23 million that year. The bill also establishes permanent, full funding of PILT, eliminating the volatility that county budgets face during the annual budget process. 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 and PILT will provide the long-term, stable funding counties need to provide quality services,” said Andy Hunthausen, Lewis and Cark County Commission Chair. “Jon has been a leader this issue, and this bill shows his commitment to rural Montana and provides a solution that counties have needed for years. We look forward to helping Jon get this bill across the finish line.”

SRS was enacted in 2000 to provide payments to support local schools and roads in more than 30 Montana counties. The program helps compensate counties with federal land that has seen declining timber production in recent years. SRS was not reauthorized after 2013, causing Montana counties to lose $21 million since the last payment.

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.

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.