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Montana county commissioners encourage override of veto of marijuana tax revenue bill

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Posted at 8:29 PM, Apr 02, 2024

County commissioners across Montana are urging state lawmakers to override a veto from Gov. Greg Gianforte.

The vetoed legislation, Senate Bill 442, passed the Montana Legislature almost unanimously. It would have allowed a portion of marijuana tax money to fund local infrastructure projects through counties.

The Montana Association of Counties would like to see the bill become law because it would help bring money to fix and maintain county roads.

Recreation and access to public land can lead to heavy use on county roads, say county commissioners.

“You see some of those roads and they are absolutely torn up,” said Commissioner Ross Butcher, a Republican from Fergus County. “The folks that actually live out there and work out there struggle to get by.”

Butcher is also the president of the Montana Association of Counties.

He says Senate Bill 442 would have allocated about 25% of the marijuana tax revenues to counties to help maintain these roads.

Because of the timing, the Legislature did not have a chance to vote on the veto override until the Montana Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to put the veto out for a vote.

“The counties on behalf of the Legislature stood up and said, whoa, the administration has to allow the legislators to legislate. That's what this is about,” Butcher said.

In response to a request for comment from Gianforte, a Republican, his office sent a copy of the letter he sent to the secretary of state with his veto letter attached.

He states: “The bill glaringly omits an appropriation, failing to fund itself. The bill is unprecedented in that it authorizes ongoing state resources from the general fund to maintain county roads.”

Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund, a Republican, is on the Montana Association of Counties board and signed the letter in support of an override of the veto.

But another Yellowstone County commissioner would rather not see the bill become law.

"Yellowstone County, it's about $8.6 million that is being raised on (marijuana) taxes,” said Commissioner Don Jones, also a Republican. “We get a portion of that back as regular tax but they're starting to allocate a lot of this out to smaller counties."

Jones also says some counties do not collect marijuana tax revenue but still would receive some of that through the bill.

"Bill has actually in my opinion, created some more issues that we need to resolve and take care of," Jones said.

And there is not a consensus that the Legislature should be able to vote on an override.

"Pay attention to how your legislator votes,” Butcher said.

"I'll let the courts decide whether that should happen,” Jones said.