Heinrich Calls For Full Funding Of PILT, SRS For Critical Local Government Services

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich

U.S. SENATE News:

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., joined a bipartisan coalition urging Senate leaders to fully fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) in any end-of-year legislation.

“Moving forward, we hope that we can work together to seek a long-term solution to provide a consistent and stable source of funding for the nation’s counties containing federal lands,” the lawmakers wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “As we approach the end of the 113th Congress, however, we urge you to consider the economic hardship and uncertainty that these counties will face if the PILT program is not given consistent funding.”

PILT provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes because of nontaxable federal land within their boundaries, and these resources are critical to rural counties across the country, which use the funding to provide services, such as police, fire protection, and emergency response. The SRS program, which benefits rural counties near national forests, supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, and other county projects. Along with PILT, rural counties rely heavily on SRS to help provide essential services to residents.

Funding for both PILT and SRS has expired, and unless the programs are renewed, counties across the country will see major budget cuts. Annually, PILT and SRS combined provide more than $700 million to rural counties across the country.

The letter, led by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), was also signed by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Ron Wyden, (D-OR) Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Carl Levin (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Enzi (R-WY), John Boozman (R-AK), Tim Kaine (D-VA), John Walsh (D-MT), Mark Pryor (D-AK), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Dean Heller (R-NV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and James Inhofe (R-OK).

The full text of the letter:

November 24, 2014

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
United States Senate
522 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

We write to request that full funding of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) program be included in any end-of-year legislation likely to pass in the Senate and House. We greatly appreciate your attention to these programs in previous years and would welcome the opportunity to work with you to ensure that a solution be in place before the end of the 113th Congress for these payments to be funded and paid during at least Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15).

The PILT program provides critical resources to nearly 1,900 counties in 49 states and 3 U.S. territories. It was created 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 essential services such as law enforcement, public safety, infrastructure maintenance, education, and health services for local communities. A fully-funded PILT program helps to ensure that counties that house federal lands can continue to provide these essential services.

The SRS program reaches over 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools located near national forests throughout the country. SRS payments support public schools, public roads, forest health projects, and other county projects. Along with PILT, rural counties rely heavily on SRS to help provide essential services to residents.

Moving forward, we hope that we can work together to seek a long-term solution to provide a consistent and stable source of funding for the nation’s counties containing federal lands.  As we approach the end of the 113th Congress, however, we urge you to consider the economic hardship and uncertainty that these counties will face if the PILT program is not given consistent funding. In supporting the PILT and SRS programs, we have the opportunity to fulfill the federal government’s obligation to local communities with large amounts of federal land. We look forward to working with you to resolve this pressing issue facing our communities in FY15 and in the coming years.

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