Democratic and Republican senators came together last week to request, in a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders, a two-year reauthorization of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act programs.
The PILT program was established to aid rural areas financially, as counties abundant with federal lands cannot collect property taxes from the federal government. PILT expires at the end of fiscal year 2019, and with the services that it provides to rural areas, like law enforcement, mental health programs and libraries, lawmakers urged the Senate to consider it in an end-of-the-year package.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., extended beyond the letter and introduced legislation on Sept.16 to reauthorize PILT for 10 more years. Bennet called the funds “critical for communities across Colorado that use these funds for essential services like infrastructure maintenance and law enforcement,” in a news release.
“This legislation is a common-sense step to reauthorize the program, so that we can continue to fully fund PILT and meet the needs of our counties,” Bennet said. “We will continue to work toward a long-term solution for PILT that will provide counties and local governments sustained funding and more predictability.”
Gardner supported the program as well, calling it an “important resource for many counties in Colorado and across the country with large amounts of non-taxable federal land,” in a news release.
“It’s important that Congress fully funds this program, which is used for critical services like law enforcement and infrastructure investments,” Gardner said.
In addition, the SRS program expired at the end of fiscal year 2018, and lawmakers urged inclusion of the program in any end-of-the-year funding package. The program has served over 775 counties in more than 40 states by helping fund schools, road maintenance and law enforcement, among other things, and, according to the letter, schools, libraries and jails will close if funding is omitted.
“As we work to establish a permanent county payments solution, diversify rural economies ... and ensure that our public lands provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, grazing opportunities, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization of at least two years is critical to provide fiscal certainty for counties containing federally-owned lands,” the letter said.
Reauthorization has received support from Colorado counties, including President of Colorado Counties Mark Roeber, who in a statement called PILT funding “absolutely critical for rural counties in Colorado.”
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said that PILT is a “significant source of revenue for the county.
“Federal public lands make up 40% of the county and PILT funding helps offset the county’s expenses maintaining roads, providing emergency response and search and rescue in these areas,” Lachelt said.
From 2017 through 2019, La Plata County has received $394,614, $837,892 and $818,339 each year, respectively, according to La Plata County Manager Chuck Stevens.
Since PILT is restricted in its use, the county tries to limit the funding to vital resources such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations, Stevens said.
“La Plata County has long supported permanent reauthorization of PILT,” Lachelt said. “The western states hold the majority of the nation’s public lands that belong to every American – PILT should not be used as a political football.”
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org