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Guest Editorial: A bill for all Montanans

The legislative session in Montana is a full-contact sport. Bills get introduced that stoke controversy and debate. My bill (SB 442) was no different to begin with, but we ended up with a bill Montanans could be proud of. Thousands of Montanans were able to convince 130 of 150 legislators to vote for SB 442. It was popular because Montanans were able to put aside long-standing disagreements and work with their neighbors to help craft a bill that invests in every single one of us.

As legislators get ready to override Governor Gianforte’s veto of SB 442, I wanted to remind Montanans what this bill does:

1) It provides permanent property tax relief to disabled veterans and their widowed spouses.

2) It increases funding for addiction services.

3) It keeps funding for trails, state parks, and non-game species.

4) Increases conservation tools to include restoration and water infrastructure on public and private land as well as funds for new Wildlife Management Areas.

5) Access-based funding for county roads. This one seems to be the sticking point for the Governor’s office, so let’s clear the air on it:

The formula used to generate the county road payments in SB 442 was based on how many acres of publicly accessible land are available in each county. That was the most sensible means to determine where the money should be spent due to excessive county road use and having the greatest impact on increasing public access to public lands. Montanan’s know that county roads are the primary routes of travel once you leave the pavement and the pavement in Montana sometimes ends quickly.

Without an increase in maintenance dollars, counties may have to abandon roads, leaving public lands for only those well-connected enough to get to them. A lack of investment in our rural roads also hampers wildland firefighting efforts and leaves residents of rural locations without reliable service from first responders.

We have a lot of county roads, and someone’s mother, grandfather, uncle, or cousin live on all of them. But our counties don’t have the funding to sustain all of those roads, especially during the freeze/thaw cycles when Montanans head out in force on county roads looking for turkeys and bears in the spring, and deer, antelope, and elk in the fall. Today, that means either property tax increases or tapping into a reliable, sustainable source of tax revenue that already exists.

In short, it really doesn’t matter which county you live in, because we all use county roads whether you live in Kalispell or Two Dot.

The legislators of Montana’s 68th session have already overridden the veto of HB 868, which appropriates and directs the funds for SB 442.

SB 442 brought Montana together in a time when division is the preferred course of action in politics.

I hope my colleagues will still stand with me and cast their vote to overturn the Governor’s veto, and support this excellent bill.

Senator Mike Lang is from Malta, MT and represents Montana State Senate District 17.

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