HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Senate is signaling support for using marijuana tax revenue to fix aging county roads across the Treasure State.
That’s what State. Rep Mike Lang (R-Malta) is proposing with Senate Bill 442, which cleared a second reading on near-party lines Tuesday. It cleared 33-17 before being re-referred to the Finance and Claims Committee.
The bill would give 20% of annual funds from the Marijuana State Special Revenue Account that are more than the operating reserve. This is estimated to be over $8,000,000 annually that would go to the Department of Transportation to be deposited in a new County Roads Habitat Access account that would go to cities and counties for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, and repair of roads.
Currently, these funds go to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the Habitat Montana program.
Those in favor of the bill say county roads are in dire need of any funding possible and this provides a crucial boost.
“This is an annual event. People come every year and virtually tear up these roads,” said State Sen. Russel “Russ” Tempel (R-Chester), one of nearly two-dozen Republican co-sponsors of the legislation. "Basically, the counties, for the most part, 6%-10% their budget is roads. This is just a little bit of an amount, if you divide the dollars into the miles, it gets you a few miles down the road. And this is help that’s a band-aid, and it’s an annual event.”
The opposition believes taking funds away from wildlife habitat projects is not the right way to go about fixing roads.
“The Weyerhaeuser timberland sale in northwest Montana left many unsure about the future of the timber economy and public access in that part of the state. Because of Habitat Montana, thousands of acres of land now permanently ensure public access and working for us,” said State Sen. Denise Hayman (D-Bozeman). “But I know there are many more projects still coming forward and we have to make sure there’s enough funding available.”
Hayman proposed an amendment that would have kept FWP’s 20% take while providing the same 20% currently in the bill towards roads, but it was voted down on the Senate floor, despite support of all 16 Democrats and three Republicans.