U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today announced she will co-sponsor a bipartisan effort to re-authorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
The bill, to be introduced within the next week, will extend payments to boroughs and unorganized communities and schools in southeast and southcentral Alaska for five years, beginning in 2012. The legislation would also extend Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to boroughs and unorganized communities in the areas through 2017.
The Secure Rural Schools program, which is slated to expire at the end of this year, has historically shared revenue from U.S. Forest Service timber sales with local governments and schools, including communities in the Tongass and Chugach national forests. However, since timber sale levels have declined dramatically in recent years, Congress has provided supplemented funding.
"Since these communities cannot utilize the lands surrounding them to generate economic activity, they deserve a temporary safety net until Congress can put federal land management policy on a better path. Secure Rural Schools will provide the relief these communities need," Murkowski said. "While I do not believe we should permanently extend programs that pay communities for not developing their natural resources, I do believe we owe these communities a lifeline."
"We must return to a system where our federal forests are utilized to generate the jobs and economic activity they once did," Murkowski said. "If I thought we could force such a shift in this Congress, I would do so immediately. Since that's not possible, I am doing what must be done to avoid the draconian impacts that the loss of this program would have on these communities."
The PILT program provides local governments revenue to compensate for their inability to levy taxes on federal lands within their jurisdiction.
"The PILT program was put in place to compensate communities with federal lands within their jurisdictions for lost tax revenue," Murkowski said. "Since I do not expect Congress to grant local municipalities the right to tax federal lands, I see no reason why we should not continue funding this program for the foreseeable future."
Under Murkowski's proposal, payments from the Secure Rural School program would be reduced by 5 percent each year, while PILT payments would be maintained at current levels.
Murkowski is committed to finding acceptable offsets to pay for both programs that do not negatively impact other programs important to Alaska.
Murkowski is the ranking member of the Senator Energy and Natural Resource Committee, with oversight of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which are responsible for making these payments to the local governments in Southeast Alaska.
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