Democratic Senator Jon Tester has signed-on to a new bill that he says would bring badly-needed financial security to Montana's most rural and timber-dependent counties.
Senator Tester says the "Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act" would annually reauthorize Montana's SRS payments for three years at $23 million, the level provided in 2011.
"We can't, because we still have some budget restrictions, bump it up a lot. But if you start cutting it, it could start having draconian effects upon county government. 2011 was picked because it was a number of $364 million nationwide that we could live with, and the counties could live with too," Tester said.
The SRS Act expired last fall and Congress didn't renew it. That's left 34 Montana timber-dependent counties facing a severe financial shortfall.
This proposal would also permanently fund the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program. PILT payments are made to 55 Montana counties with federal lands not taxable by local governments. The bill is co-sponsored by 6 Democrats and two Idaho Republicans.
Montana's Republican Senator Steve Daines is not a co-signer, but says he supports the measure.