Senator John Walsh today unveiled a new proposal to improve the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program so that rural counties receive fair payments for non-taxable federal land in their counties.
Walsh's legislation consolidates the three major programs the federal government uses to pay counties for land ownership and management. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), Secure Rural Schools (SRS), and Refuge Revenue Sharing (RRS) programs would merge into one expanded PILT program that will provide full, permanent, and mandatory funding, giving local governments the certainty they have lacked under the current programs.
"In my travels around Montana, I've heard from our local governments asking for predictability and simplicity when receiving payments they are owed." Walsh said. "Montanans rely on our local governments to educate our children, plow our roads, protect our families, and pick up our trash. This legislation provides more certainty and predictability for our local officials as they budget for the essential services we count on."
Under the current payment programs, rural counties often wait each year for Congress to act at the last minute to reauthorize county payments, throwing off local budgets and disrupting services. This legislation would provide permanent funding, ensure part of the payments corresponds to Congressional land designations and historic revenue sharing, and ensure that rural counties in the most need receive an adequate share of payments.
PILT payments are made to counties to offset the loss in property tax revenue from federally owned public lands in the county. SRS and RRS payments have been made to counties based on historic timber receipts and refuge land value. The combination of stable PILT funding and higher timber harvests, especially under a new Farm Bill program championed by Walsh for forests affected by mountain pine beetle, will help forest communities and keep jobs at mills in Montana.
Senator Walsh strongly supports passing a temporary extension of the payment programs in order to provide continued funding while the Senate considers his bill.
In 2014, Montana counties received $29 million in PILT payments and $19 million in SRS payments.