U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have announced that that they have sent a bipartisan letter signed by a coalition of senators to the leadership of the Farm Bill conference committee requesting that funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program be included in the final Farm Bill conference report. PILT provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal land within their boundaries. These resources are critical to rural counties across the U.S., which use the funding to provide services, such as police, fire protection, and emergency response.
Funding for PILT expired at the end of the year, and unless it can be renewed, counties will see major budget cuts. In 2013, New Mexico received $34,692,967.
In a letter to the leaders of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, the senators wrote, “Counties across the country, particularly those containing significant federal landholdings rely on PILT funds as sizeable percentages of their budgets. Many of the same rural counties that rely on programs in the Farm Bill also depend on PILT to sustain their economies and serve their citizens.”
“Without an extension of PILT, rural counties will face drastic budget cuts in June and may struggle to fund the most basic of services,” the senators added.
In addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter has been signed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jim Risch (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Udall and Heinrich have been strong advocates for steady, full funding of the PILT program. After years of funding PILT inconsistently, Congress in 2008 fully and automatically funded PILT for five years. In a 2012 transportation bill, full funding was extended for another year, leaving the future beyond 2013 uncertain. Starting in 2011, Udall, along with then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman, helped lead the fight in the Senate for mandatory, long-term support of PILT and Secure Rural Schools funding to give local communities assurance that they can depend on this lifeline for long-term planning. Heinrich, then a member of the House, sponsored a companion bill, which would have fully funded the PILT program for an additional five years. Last year, Udall and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), along with Heinrich, wrote the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Interior subcommittee calling on them to fully support and fund PILT.
This week’s letter to the Farm Bill conferees continues their push for full funding.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Cochran, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson:
We write to request that the final Farm Bill Conference report include a renewal for the Department of Interior’s Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program. The PILT program provides critical funding to more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories, making up for diminished tax revenues stemming from Federal ownership of land within county boundaries. Unfortunately the FY 2014 Omnibus spending bill did not include resources for this vital program.
Counties across the country, particularly those containing significant federal landholdings, rely on PILT funds as sizeable percentages of their budgets. Many of the same rural counties that rely on programs in the Farm Bill also depend on PILT to sustain their economies and serve their citizens. These dollars help fund essential services like road maintenance, fire departments and emergency medical services. Without an extension of PILT, rural counties will face drastic budget cuts in June and may struggle to fund the most basic of services. In fact, some of these counties may be faced with potential insolvency. The federal government needs to honor the pledge made to our rural counties and fund this program.
We urge you to include a renewal of the PILT program in the final Farm Bill conference report.
Thank you for your consideration.