Montana delegation calls for coordinated response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh, along with Congressman Steve Daines, are calling on the U.S. Interior Department to work with three Montana school districts on a payments issue dating back to the 1970s.

Since 1977, Gardiner School Districts 4 and 7 and Gallatin School District 69 in West Yellowstone have received extra payments from the department under two initiatives meant to compensate communities for tax revenue lost due to their proximity to public lands – such as Yellowstone National Park.

The Interior Department recently halted the payments and now wants the three districts to repay more than three decades worth of extra payments, which could cost the school districts millions of dollars.

Tester, Walsh and Daines are standing up for the school districts and telling the Interior Department to reach out to district leaders to find a better solution for the schools and students.

“These rural school districts will be hard-pressed to rework their annual budgets without these annual payments, much less pay back the millions of dollars they received,” Tester, Walsh and Daines told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “We feel that more information is needed to fully understand how this happened and what can be done to correct the issue.”

Tester, Walsh and Daines are requesting a call between the Congressional delegation, Interior Department officials and staff from the school districts to address the issue.

The extra payments stem from a 1976 change in federal law that prevented schools districts from receiving resources from both the Payments-in-Lieu of Taxes program and another program created in 1948 meant to compensate communities in the vicinity of Yellowstone. However, the Department’s error was not discovered until now.

The letter from Tester, Walsh, and Daines to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is available online HERE.