Extend Secure Rural Schools Act

By Beacon Staff

A decision in the U.S. House of Representatives may have a disastrous impact in Montana that could result in teachers and road workers across our state losing their jobs.

The House of Representatives is stalling much-needed legislation that ensures Montana’s rural communities and schools receive the support they need through the Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes initiatives. These initiatives make up large portions of local county budgets. For example, Lincoln County, which I represent, is 78 percent federal forest land and received nearly $4.8 million last year.

The funds support local school district budgets and county road maintenance. Without these initiatives, our schools would be facing difficult decisions and our roads would be in worse shape – unplowed and not maintained. Secure Rural Schools expired last year and Payment in Lieu of Taxes is set to lapse later this year, putting their future – and that of rural Montana – in doubt.

Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus recognize what these two initiatives mean for rural Montana counties. That is why they successfully reauthorized Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes for another year in the recent Transportation Bill. This amendment, which passed the Senate 80 to 18, earned the overwhelming support of both Republicans and Democrats.

However, the House of Representatives is refusing to take action on a long-term transportation bill. If they don’t move quickly, some Montana teachers will be out of a job next fall. And those decisions will be made very soon.

Every second the House delays, it brings Montanans that much closer to losing their jobs. Less money for rural schools also means less opportunity for our rural students. And fewer dollars for counties means higher local property taxes for many communities throughout Montana.

By failing to invest in Montana’s and the country’s future, the House is threatening rural America’s way of life. The House’s irresponsible decision-making is hurting Montana students, Montana jobs and rural Montana communities.

I urge Rep. Denny Rehberg to follow in Jon’s and Max’s footsteps and work for a bipartisan solution that keeps Montanans working, strengthens schools, rural Montana communities, and supports our way of life.

Marianne Roose
Lincoln County Commissioner
Secretary of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition