Says payments critical for rural counties to operate local schools, provide law enforcement and emergency medical services
Washington, D.C. -U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, voted in favor of an amendment to restore a critical lifeline to Idaho's rural communities. The measure, which was approved on a bipartisan, 18 to 4, vote, would remove procedural hurdles within the budget framework to facilitate renewal of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program and fully fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. These programs provide for essential services such as law enforcement, schools and roads to counties with large swaths of untaxable federal land. The Idaho Senator says a failure to reauthorize SRS and fully fund PILT may result in layoffs to teachers, road crews, police officers and other important county employees. Crapo introduced a stand-alone bill on the same subject with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) last month.
"Rural communities should not be asked to exhaust their resources and plan under a cloud of uncertainty because they house federally-managed, untaxable lands," said Crapo. "County governments traditionally relied on a percentage of receipts from federal timber sales as compensation for the absence of taxable lands, but funds began drying up when harvests were down requiring a temporary solution from Congress. Until we are able to increase timber harvests to render such payments unnecessary, we must uphold our obligation to these communities to assist with funding roads, schools and other critical services."
The Senate's budget proposal now heads to the Senate Floor where it will await further consideration.
Congress has acted a number of times to extend SRS and fully fund PILT, but these extensions have been short-term. The most recent extension expired, leaving rural communities across the nation wondering if they will be able to maintained needed services.
The PILT program provides crucial resources to nearly 1,900 counties in 49 states and 3 U.S. territories. It was established in 1976 to help offset losses to local governments from the presence of non-taxable federal lands. Property taxes fund county governments, allowing them to provide basic public safety services and infrastructure maintenance for local communities. A fully-funded PILT program helps to ensure that counties that house federal lands can continue to provide these essential services.
Like PILT, rural counties rely heavily on the SRS program to provide essential services to residents. Since 1908, the U.S. forest Service has been required to return 25 percent of its receipts to the states for use in the counties where national forests are located. Unfortunately, federal policies have decreased timber receipts to the point where the federal obligation is not met through the receipts alone. As a result, the SRS program was enacted in 2000 to provide a more stable payment to communities where Forest Service receipt-sharing payments have declined significantly. These payments reach over 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools located near national forests throughout the country and support public schools, roads, forest health projects and other county projects.