Tester to Senate Leadership: Protect Critical Funding for Rural Counties Before it Runs Out

Senator joins bipartisan letter calling to reauthorize “critical lifelines” PILT and SRS

U.S. Senator Jon Tester has joined a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues in calling for a minimum of a two-year reauthorization for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act (SRS)—two programs critical to Montana counties’ balance sheets—in any year-end legislation.

The Senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, saying PILT and SRS represent a “critical lifeline” to rural counties across America.

“Montana counties need certainty to budget for the future,” Tester said. “PILT and SRS give them that certainty, and make sure folks in rural Montana don’t get left behind.”

PILT makes payments to counties with large amounts of untaxable federal land for services like law enforcement, mental health programs, and libraries, and is authorized through the end of FY 2019 but awaits a vote for FY 2020. SRS compensates forested counties with federal land for lost revenue due to declining timber production, and expired at the end of FY 2018, with final payments going out early this year. Without reauthorization, forested counties will lose funding for schools, road maintenance, and search and rescue operations on federal lands.

“Congress has an obligation to ensure counties with large swaths of federally-owned, tax-exempt forests and rangelands can adequately provide essential services for their residents,” the Senators wrote. “Without the certainty of these two critical programs, schools, libraries, and jails will close.”

Tester has long fought for PILT and SRS. He secured two years of SRS funding in 2016 and delivered $40 million in PILT funds for Montana in 2018 alone.

The Senators’ letter is available HERE.