Daines: Montana counties with federal lands need more fiscal certainty

By Missoula Current

When Missoula County commissioners and other leaders around western Montana talk about their budget, more times than not they mention federal funding and the uncertainty that comes with it.

That includes Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes, both of which remain in doubt.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, on Tuesday commented on the issue, saying Montana counties need more certainty.

“I hear from Montana counties every year about their frustration with the uncertainty created with appropriations of the PILT and SRS programs,” Daines said. “These counties, unlike the federal government, don’t wait until the last moment to create their budgets.”

This week, Daines joined a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing, where federal payments to local governments came up, including SRS and PILT.

Both federal programs provide funding to counties and schools located near national forests to compensate for lost taxes. Recent cuts to SRS alone has left Missoula County with a loss of around $406,000.

County leaders this week said President Donald Trump had also taken aim at cutting PILT payments.

Regardless of the future of the two programs, Daines said the federal government needs to provide greater fiscal certainty for resource-dependent communities with tax-exempt federal lands.

“Montana counties are frustrated with the pace and scale of active forest management and struggle with developing other natural resources, like Montana energy,” Daines said. “It’s unfair to keep them in limbo each year as they wait to see if they’ll get funding through SRS and PILT.”