NM Sen. Bingaman introduces bill preserving support payments for counties with federal lands
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is cosponsoring legislation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would preserve existing funding support for counties containing National Forest System lands. The bill would maintain Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) given to counties in compensation for containing federal land, as well as funding for rural schools, forest management, and other county government initiatives. KTVZ reports:
Sen. Bingaman said: “Over the past few years, Secure Rural Schools and PILT have been lifelines for financially-strapped rural counties and the thousands of Americans they employ and contract with. While we all have different perspectives on the county payments programs, we recognize how critical they are to our communities and the necessity of bringing together a broad, bipartisan coalition to support this plan if we are to have any chance of successfully securing funding.”
Sen. Murkowski said: “Until Congress can return federal land management to a system where our forests generate the jobs and economic activity they once did, Secure Rural Schools provides crucial funding to keep whole some of our most remote communities. I support this legislation as a temporary fix, fully aware that the only permanent solution is for the Forest Service to reinstate regular timber sales to provide some economic benefit to the communities within the national forest system.
“The PILT program was put in place to compensate communities with federal lands within their jurisdictions for lost tax revenue. Since I don’t expect Congress to grant local municipalities the right to tax federal lands, I see no reason why we should not continue funding this program for the foreseeable future.”
New Mexico would receive $56 million in county payments over the next five years. In addition, Bingaman estimates that New Mexico gets about $35 million in lieu of taxes each year, although that figure could vary depending on the distribution of federal land.
PILT would not be subject to the normal appropriations process, but would be reduced by five percent each year for the next five years, with the hope that it will eventually be phased out.
The federal government receives $13 billion annually from commercial activities on federal lands. As Murkowski’s comments indicate, some in Congress wish to expand logging, livestock grazing, and oil and gas leasing operations within federal lands, and allow states to have a larger stake in this economic activity. But conservationists caution against excessively exploiting national forest lands.
Current funding for PILT was provided in the emergency stimulus act passed under the Bush administration in 2008.