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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers debate how to spend the state's marijuana tax revenue

Montana’s House and Senate are at odds over how to spend the state’s nearly $50 million revenue from the sales tax on marijuana. Much of the debate centers around the funding of a conservation program.

Rep. Bill Mercer, a Republican from Billings, has brought a bill that would gradually shift marijuana revenue away from Habitat Montana by 2025.

Instead, he wants to put the roughly $8 million going to that program into the state’s general fund account, where lawmakers will have more control over where the money goes.

“I think the advantage with this bill is it rights the course in terms of the way the Legislature utilizes the authority that it has,” Mercer said.

Hunting and fishing groups, along with public land advocates, have argued to keep the money funding Habitat Montana, a program through Fish, Wildlife, and Parks that purchases land to be set aside for wildlife and public access.

Chris Marchion with Anaconda Sportsman and the Montana Wildlife Federation spoke on the matter.

“All Montanans find wildlife significantly valuable to them and we just aren't providing the kinds of funds that we need to sufficiently address the needs of those wildlife and we need Habitat Montana monies,” Marchion said.

A separate proposal in the Senate would keep the revenue that goes to Habitat Montana largely intact, while adding an allocation for county road maintenance.

The bill carried by Sen. Mike Lang, a Republican from Malta, would also make small changes to give additional funds for habitat restoration projects.

“And that will give us the opportunity to do things on the ground. It's not purchasing land. It's not doing easements, it's doing work on the ground,” Lang said.

Lang’s bill has been endorsed by the same groups that oppose Mercer’s bill.

Mercer’s bill received preliminary approval on the House floor with a vote on party lines this week, while Lang’s is expected to be heard in the Senate sometime next week.

Lawmakers are pressing against a transmittal deadline to advance the bills by April 4th.

Ellis Juhlin is MTPR's Rocky Mountain Front reporter. Ellis previously worked as a science reporter at Utah Public Radio and a reporter at Yellowstone Public Radio. She has a Master's Degree in Ecology from Utah State University. She's an average birder and wants you to keep your cat indoors. She has two dogs, one of which is afraid of birds.
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