Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) led a group of 18 Members of Congress urging the House Democratic Members of the transportation conference committee to support and extend critical rural programs in the final surface transportation bill. Specifically, the letter requests a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and guaranteed funding for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program.
Across the country, more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories depend on these programs to support emergency responders, public schools, and critical infrastructure. In the rural areas of Oregon's First District, a loss of these funds would mean a substantial loss of revenue and jobs and could lead to insolvency.
The Senate version of the transportation bill passed with a one-year extension of these programs.
The full letter follows below:
May 18, 2012
We respectfully request that you extend funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program as part of the surface transportation reauthorization bill. The need for these funds is dire, and there is broad support for both programs in both the Senate and House. Last month, the Senate agreed to an amendment to S. 1813 extending funding for these programs by a vote of 82-16. In recent years, the House has supported extensions of these programs on a broad bipartisan basis.
The Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs provide much needed funding to thousands of counties across the country. Counties use these funds to support emergency responders, public schools, and critical infrastructure. Without these funds, dependent counties will face extreme budget cuts, the loss of critical services, and for some it will mean insolvency or bankruptcy. SRS expired last year, as did guaranteed funding for PILT, making the surface transportation bill the last opportunity for Congress to extend these programs before teachers, police, firefighters, and nurses are laid off all across rural America. It is therefore critical that an extension of funding be included in this legislation.
Since 1908, the federal government has shared revenue derived from national forests with the counties in which those forests were located to make up for revenue that would have otherwise been generated by development of the land. Since 2000, SRS has fulfilled that commitment to rural communities. Likewise, the PILT program recognizes that federally-owned land is not taxable and therefore does not contribute property tax revenue that would otherwise be collected by local governments. Together, the two programs provide critical funding to more than 1900 counties in 49 states and territories. In this time of economic uncertainty, citizens in these rural communities stand to suffer the loss of thousands of family-wage jobs and essential services personnel.
The rural counties that benefit from this program have faced devastating economic conditions over the last few years, and they are some of the most depressed in the nation. Not only do projections show that failure to renew SRS will cause the loss of more than 11,000 jobs, but will also cost U.S. businesses $1.37 billion in revenue and $188 million in tax receipts in 2012-13. Similarly, a failure to renew PILT will mean even more layoffs and lost revenue.
This extension will also help aid in the bipartisan efforts that have been put forth this Congress to find a long term solution for our struggling counties. We must continue to work to find solutions to promote forest health, create jobs, and ensure these counties are on the right path to becoming viable and prosperous once again.
As you consider the surface transportation bill, we urge you to extend funding for these truly critical SRS and PILT programs to ensure that schools can keep their doors open, police and firefighters can continue to respond to emergencies, and counties in rural America can stave off bankruptcy for at least another year.
The Honorable Suzanne Bonamici
The Honorable Martin Heinrich
The Honorable Shelley Berkley
The Honorable Terri A. Sewell
The Honorable Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.
The Honorable Ben Ray Lujan
The Honorable Michael H. Michaud
The Honorable Raúl Grijalva
The Honorable Jared Polis
The Honorable Ed Pastor
The Honorable Jim Costa
The Honorable Mike Ross
The Honorable G. K. Butterfield
The Honorable John Garamendi
The Honorable Grace F. Napolitano
The Honorable Colleen W. Hanabusa
The Honorable Jim Matheson
The Honorable Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan