The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved an amendment today that extends federal payments to counties with large tracts of federal land in order to compensate for the loss in revenue from timber and local property taxes. The Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) amendment to the highway bill was offered by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) and co-sponsored by Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.
The 82 to 16 vote to include county payments in the transportation legislation is a strong indication that Senators approve continuing the payments to counties where federal land ownership limits that local tax base. That tax revenue is critical for counties to operate local schools, provide law enforcement and maintain roads, bridges and other projects.
"We were able to find the necessary funding from other projects in order to continue this critical funding source for Idaho's schools and roads," Crapo said. "It is important that a large, bipartisan coalition of Senators continues to understand that the federal government should compensate local government for the fact the federal government pays no taxes on the property it owns."
"While I would have preferred a longer term fix to provide more certainty to the entities that rely on this funding, this does provide a remedy for now," said Risch. "Until the timber revenues from our National Forests increase and refill the 25-percent fund, the federal government must maintain this lifeline to our rural schools and counties."
The county payments amendment relies on offsets from tobacco programs and insurance policy sales. The overall transportation measure that now includes the county payments amendment may see a final vote next week.
The original county payments bills have been extended several times since the passage of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. According to records kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho received a total of $27,404,335.78 in FY2011. Idaho County received the largest county portion at $7,693,842.