Tester Backs Bill to Keep Electric Co-ops in Business, Support Rural Montana, After Feedback at Public Town Hall

RURAL Act repeals provision of 2017 tax bill that penalizes co-ops, harms rural Montana

After hearing directly from members of Montana’s rural electric co-ops at meetings across the state and at his public town hall in Billings last week, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced he is signing onto a bill to protect electric co-ops from harmful provisions in the 2017 Republican tax bill.

The bipartisan RURAL Act would reverse a provision of the hastily-written 2017 Republican tax bill that penalizes electric co-ops for applying for federal grants, putting their tax-exempt status at risk and jeopardizing jobs and affordable power for thousands of Montanans.

“Montanans rely on the affordable power electric co-ops provide to run their businesses, homes, and farms,” Tester said. “The RURAL Act will make sure co-ops can continue providing critical services at a rate that doesn’t break the bank, and will help them get the lights on as soon as possible after natural disasters.”

Tester continued: “Harmful provisions like this one – that threaten jobs, raise costs for consumers, and could potentially lead even more folks to leave rural communities for good – are why I opposed the Republican tax bill in the first place. In the future, I hope folks in Congress and the White House spend more time carefully considering exactly how their legislation will affect real people and businesses.”

Under the law, cooperatives can only receive 15 percent of their revenue from non-members and still retain their tax-exempt status. The 2017 Republican tax bill included a malicious provision that changed the type of revenue that would be counted towards that 15 percent, effectively barring co-ops from applying for grants from FEMA for disaster relief to get power lines up and running after natural disasters like landslides or wildfires.

Written and passed without any public input or Congressional hearings, the 2017 Republican tax bill has been disastrous for Montana, and spawned a host of terrible consequences, including hiking taxes on children receiving survivor benefits because they lost a military parent in the line of duty, growing income inequality, and adding trillions of dollars to the national debt.

Tester has solicited feedback from constituents at five previously announced, in-person public town halls in Bozeman, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, and Billings in 2019, and twelve since President Trump took office. He has held dozens of Facebook Live town halls and public forums since 2016, ranging on topics from health care reform to Farm Bill reauthorization, VA community care, the ongoing trade war, and local infrastructure priorities across Montana.