Supporting Full Funding of Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes and Secure Rural School Programs
For Westerners, the federal government’s ownership of vast quantities of land does more than restrict economic development opportunities. It also robs local communities of property tax revenues and the taxes associated with private business development. The federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs were created to address these problems. Until recently, these programs were subject to the whims of the congressional appropriations process and were constantly underfunded. It is estimated that western communities lost out on over one billion dollars in unfunded PILT payments since the program was enacted in 1976.
PILT compensates more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories for property taxes they cannot collect on tax-exempt federal lands. These federal lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, federal water projects and some military installations. PILT helps rural counties pay for vital services such as environmental compliance, law enforcement, health care and education.
When the National Forest System was established and forestland was set aside from settlement and development, many local rural communities experienced hardships due to the large amounts of land withdrawn from economic development. In response, Congress created a revenue sharing program from activities on national forest lands to help offset these effects. These payments primarily funded public schools and roads. In 2000, Congress created the SRS to replace and modernize the old timber receipt revenue-sharing program. For many rural counties once dependent on timber revenue, these funds are vital. Without inclusion in this year's budget, 4,400 schools would lose funding, and many counties across America could face fiscal insolvency.
The Western Caucus took a lead role in achieving guaranteed, full-funding of PILT and SRS for the first time. We will continue to fight for these programs well into the future.