Washington, DC – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today unveiled a bipartisan plan that 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.
The proposal would fully fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program for an additional five years. 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 five years the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, a program that supports counties that rely economically on national forest lands.
“In these challenging economic times, local governments have had to make cuts to crucial programs to make ends meet,” Bennet said. “The PILT Program and Secure Rural Schools and the Community Self-Determination Act have been lifelines for financially strapped counties and local businesses. This bipartisan agreement will ensure that we continue to make smart investments in our 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.
Under the 2008 law, payments to Colorado counties were initially increased dramatically and then—like all other counties under the program—were moderately decreased at a rate of 10 percent each year. Under the new plan announced today, the annual reduction would be eased to 5 percent each year.
"The federal government owns over 35 million acres in Colorado -- over half the state’s land area,” said Chip Taylor, Executive Director of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI). “For counties and for other local governments that depend on property taxes, PILT is the property tax replacement that allows them to be the partners they’re expected to be in the cared custody of the gateways to our national lands. CCI greatly appreciates Senator Bennet’s willingness to take on the challenge of seeking reauthorization of this critical program for local governments."
The plan announced today also would ensure that PILT does not have to be subjected to the annual appropriations process, a process that for years underfunded the program and shortchanged Colorado counties. As part of the 2008 effort, PILT was guaranteed full funding through the current fiscal year. Under the new plan, PILT would remain automatically fully funded until 2017.
The bipartisan group leading the effort has agreed to work to find offsets to ensure that the plan will not increase the federal deficit.
Next week, the proposal will be introduced by Bennet along with Senators Jeff Bingaman, Tom Udall, Lisa Murkowski, Max Baucus, Mike Crapo, Ron Wyden, James Risch, Harry Reid, Jon Tester, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.