U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich today announced that the Farm Bill conference report, made public last night, includes one year of funding for the critical Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program. The news provides relief for rural counties in New Mexico, which face major budget cuts if PILT is not extended.
The senators were among a bipartisan coalition who wrote to Farm Bill negotiators to request an extension of the program, which expired at the end of last year with no plan for renewal. PILT compensates counties that host large amounts of federal land, and is a major source of revenue for rural communities. Federal land can’t be developed or taxed, but counties still must provide services to their residents, such as police and fire protection, schools and roads. In 2013, 32 New Mexico counties received $34,692,967.
“This is a relief for families with school children and all rural residents who need emergency services and road improvements,” Udall said. “Without an extension of PILT, rural counties will face drastic budget and job cuts in June, and many will struggle to fund the most basic of services. This is an issue of fairness for rural communities across New Mexico, and I want to thank the conference committee for granting our request.”
“Our effort to restore funding for the PILT program is a major victory for rural New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “This program helps counties across our state avoid budget shortfalls and maintains the economic strength of rural communities who rely on the funds for infrastructure maintenance, law enforcement, and other critical local services. I commend House and Senate agriculture leaders for producing a bipartisan agreement on the Farm Bill and urge its passage.”
The Farm Bill conference report is the product of many months of negotiation between congressional leaders, who worked to resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of the Farm Bill. The final report must be approved by Congress one more time before it is sent to the president to be signed into law. The House is scheduled to consider the final report on Wednesday, followed by the Senate.
The conference report provides more than $400 million for PILT payments, which are computed based on the number of acres of federal entitlement land within each county or jurisdiction and the population of that county or jurisdiction. The lands include the National Forest and National Park Systems, the areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management, those affected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation water resource development projects, and others.
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 support of PILT and Secure Rural Schools funding for an additional five years. Heinrich, then a member of the House, sponsored a companion bill. 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.