Bipartisan House coalition urges budget leaders to fund PILT

By Phil Taylor, EE News
November 22, 2013

Nearly four dozen House lawmakers yesterday urged budget leaders to provide full funding to rural counties that contain large amounts of federal lands.

Lawmakers from both parties said the annual funding known as payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) is critical for counties to fund services including law enforcement, infrastructure and education.

Since PILT payments began in 1977, the Interior Department has disbursed more than $6 billion to nearly 2,000 counties. But the final authorized payments went out in June.

The program is designated to compensate counties with large tracts of nontaxable federal lands, mostly in the West.

"The inability for counties to collect these local taxes on the extensive acreage of federal lands in their jurisdictions poses a significant burden, especially when counties often provide critical services on these very lands," said the letter signed by 47 lawmakers to Budget Committee chairs and ranking members in the House and Senate.

Congress in 2008 authorized five years of full mandatory PILT payments, and in summer 2012 it extended those payments for an additional year as part of a transportation authorization package.

Congress must act to authorize next year's payments. A continuing resolution would offer no funding.

"Counties have already begun budgeting for Fiscal Year 2014 and without action from Congress, many will be forced to cut important services and implement budget contingency plans," said the letter spearheaded by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.). "We urge you to end this uncertainty and prevent further disruption to critical local government operations by providing full-funding for the PILT program."

Signatories to the letter included high-ranking House Republicans Greg Walden of Oregon and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, as well as Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee.

Interior in June disbursed $421.7 million in PILT payments, which was reduced by $21.5 million due to sequestration. Allocations are based on the number of acres of federal entitlement land and population, in addition to previous federal revenue sharing payments.

A lapse in PILT payments could force counties to demand that federal lands be managed for greater mineral development to help make up for lost funding.

A similar federal revenue sharing program, Secure Rural Schools, was recently extended for a year as part of an unrelated helium bill passed by Congress. But that program has technically already expired, too, with final payments going out in early 2014.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) yesterday raised the prospect of another stopgap continuing resolution in mid-January that could give leaders in both chambers a chance to set new funding levels for discretionary agencies such as Interior (E&ENews PM, Nov. 21).

It is unclear whether lawmakers will address PILT separately.