Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined his Senate colleagues in approving a bipartisan plan that – if ultimately passed into law – will extend the life of two initiatives that direct resources to Colorado counties to support local schools, county maintenance programs, forest management and other critical programs. Bennet was a cosponsor of the amendment, which passed the Senate 82-16.
The proposal, filed as an amendment to the transportation bill, would fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program for a year. PILT compensates counties for federal land that cannot be a source of property taxes. Colorado counties shared more than $27 million in PILT payments in the 2011 fiscal year. The plan would also extend for one year the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, a program that supports counties that have historically relied economically on National Forest lands.
“This vote comes at a critical time for rural communities that have had to make cuts to crucial programs to make ends meet,” Bennet said. “The PILT and SRS programs have been lifelines for financially strapped rural counties and local businesses. This bipartisan agreement will ensure that we continue to make smart investments in our rural communities.”
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act supports local public schools, funds county road improvements and maintenance projects, creates jobs conducting forest restoration and improvement projects in and around national forests, and supports local initiatives to reduce the risk from wildfires. The act was designed to provide more predictable levels of funding than what would be provided under a 1908 law that gave 25 percent of revenues from national forest lands to local counties to support their schools and roads. The 2008 reauthorization provided more than $1.75 billion to counties across the country, including more than $250 million in collaborative forest and watershed restoration, wildfire risk reduction, and other community forestry programs.
The amendment, which is fully paid for, was attached to the transportation bill because much of what counties received under SRS and PILT is spent on roads. The National Association of Counties and the National Education Association have both endorsed the amendment.