Continuing their push to support rural communities, Colorado U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet today joined 25 of their Senate colleagues in pushing for full funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program. Both were included in the transportation bill that passed the Senate earlier this year and is currently being considered by a conference committee.
In a letter, the senators urged the conferees to extend funding for the programs, which direct resources to Colorado counties to support local schools, county maintenance programs, forest management and other critical programs.
"Without this funding, counties' budgets are facing drastic cuts, and potential insolvency," the senators wrote in the letter. "This legislation provides the last opportunity to pass an extension before layoffs take place and are made permanent for road crews, teachers, and other county workers across rural America."
The amendment to the transportation bill that included SRS and PILT was cosponsored by both Udall and Bennet and passed the Senate with broad, bipartisan support. 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.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Senate Conferees:
We write to respectfully request that you extend funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program in the surface transportation reauthorization legislation being considered in conference. There is broad support and urgency for extending funding for these programs, as evidenced by Senate Amendment 1825, passed as part of MAP-21 by a vote of 82 to 16, and the introduction of S. 1692 by 33 Republican and Democratic cosponsors. Extending funding for these programs also is strongly supported by counties, schools, and public land stakeholders from around the country.
The Secure Rural Schools (commonly referred to as the county payments program) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs provide critical payments to thousands of counties across the nation. Notably, the Secure Rural Schools program expired last year, making its inclusion in this legislation critical. Without this funding, counties' budgets are facing drastic cuts, and potential insolvency; and this legislation provides the last opportunity to pass an extension before layoffs take place and are made permanent for road crews, teachers, and other county workers across rural America.
The Secure Rural Schools program reflects the commitment that the U.S. government made to rural forest counties when it set aside 193 million acres of forest lands for the benefit of the entire nation. The PILT program also provides critical funding to more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories, making up for diminished tax revenues because of Federal land ownership. They help to fund essential services for the citizens of these rural communities and, in a time of serious economic downturn, create and maintain important family-wage jobs that stand to be lost. A significant portion of the funding received through these programs is spent on roads, including critical highway spending and road maintenance. Without these funds, maintenance on some roads will simply cease and road crews will lose their jobs.
Failure to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program in 2012 would have a devastating impact on our most rural and most economically depressed counties and school districts across the nation. It is projected that well over 11,000 jobs will be lost in the next year alone if it is not reauthorized. Furthermore, the loss of this critical funding will lead to U.S. businesses, primarily in rural America, to losing almost $1.37 billion in revenues, $188 million in tax receipts in 2012-13. Similarly, a reduction in PILT funding will also add to further layoffs in these rural communities, many of which are struggling the most in the economic downturn.
We urge you to extend funding for these critical programs in the transportation reauthorization legislation. Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important request.
In addition to Udall and Bennet, the letter was signed by the following members: Senators Ron Wyden, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Bingaman, John Boozman, Mike Crapo, Jon Tester, James E. Risch, Tom Udall, Dean Heller, Patty Murray, Roy Blunt, Mark L. Pryor, Thad Cochran, Bernard Sanders, Roger F. Wicker, Jeffrey A. Merkley, Mike Lee, Claire McCaskill, Mark Begich, Maria Cantwell, Joe Manchin III, Carl Levin, Al Franken, Dianne Feinstein, and Amy Klobuchar.
The following senators are members of the conference committee for the transportation bill: Senators Barbara Boxer, James M. Inhofe, Max Baucus, David Vitter, John D. Rockefeller, Richard C. Shelby, Richard J. Durbin, Orrin Hatch, Tim Johnson, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Charles E. Schumer, John Hoeven, Bill Nelson, Robert Menendez.