Marijuana Tax Could Help Montana Roads In A Big Way
The 2023 Montana Legislature is wrapping up its legislative session. There are many things left to do and Nicole Rolf, Senior Director of Governmental Affairs for Montana Farm Bureau Federation gave us an update.
We are getting much closer to the end of the legislative session. We're around day 75, so they could technically go out to day 90, which at this point is May 6th. There's lots of talk about if they're going to finish early or not, but instead of speculating about that, we're just planning to be here and see our bills through the process and make sure that agriculture is represented in all of these ongoing discussions. Because we are getting close, we're getting towards the end of actual bill hearings and now we're almost getting to the point where we're seeing bills just moving across the floor on second and third reading. Of course, there's always the chance that some of these bills will go to a conference committee if they get amended in one chamber and have to be sent back and then the other chamber doesn't accept the amendments.
Senate Bill 442 Marijuana Tax Money
One bill that is getting a bit of attention right now that we supported in a hearing last week, is Senate Bill 442. That is a bill that actually deals with how some of the marijuana tax money is spent. Our particular interest in this bill is that it devotes a good amount of funding, about 20% of that revenue, to county road maintenance, and not just maintenance, but also even in repairs and, and maybe possibly new builds. Obviously if you talk to people who live in rural communities, one of the things you hear most often is complaints about how bad of shape the county road is. In most cases, there's only two sources of revenue to help maintain those roads, and that's gas tax and property tax. People aren't too crazy about raising property taxes and gas taxes is a finite amount of dollars. So to have a new source of funding to do this important task of keeping up county roads is really important to our members that live out in these communities. There's a formula in there that helps devote them to counties based on road miles, but also based on the amount of different kinds of opportunities for recreation. It is aimed at not only helping the folks that live in the rural communities, but also those that recreate.
WHIP Program (Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program)
In keeping with the spirit of that referendum that was passed, it also includes some more money to enhance the WHIP program, which is Noxious Weed Prevention and treatment program. So, there's a lot of other things in that legislation, but those are particularly helpful to the farming and ranching community. There's funding in there for conservation type projects that are good for both farmers, ranchers and wildlife as well habitat. It's one of the bigger bills as far as funding at the end of the session. There's some other thoughts out there on how this money should be spent, so this will be one of the bills that will be one of the last in play.
Should This Fall Under The WOTUS Rules?
Federal Legislation Update- WOTUS
Montana Farm Bureau Federation was very concerned about the most recent version of Waters of the US (WOTUS) definition, the rule that was published at the very end of 2022. We were very pleased and appreciative to see both the House and the Senate pass a resolution that enacted the Congressional Review Act, which would have put the brakes on that rule, and asked the EPA to go back to the drawing board and create a rule that not only provides clean water, but also clear rules, which is what we've always asked for. Both of our house members and both of our senators voted in support of those resolutions. So we thank them and really appreciate the recognition of Montana farmers and ranchers and other folks concerns with that rule and how it really overstepped the EPAs authority on their authority over water, under the Clean Water Act. Unfortunately, they were vetoed by the president. So we're still one step ahead and then one step back around that same time. We were also very excited to hear the ruling that Montana and 25 other states were a part of a lawsuit. The rule, at least for now, is put on a pause in our state as we try to work through this process of a workable solution.
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