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Walden & 15 lawmakers push PLIT payments in Senate

May 14, 2012

Walden leads group of lawmakers urging inclusion of county payments, PILT in final transportation bill
By Congressman Greg Walden

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and 15 House Republicans have sent a letter urging a joint Senate-House panel to include county payments and PILT funding in a final transportation bill.The Senate version of the bill, S. 1813, includes a fully offset one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and PILT, which represent a lifeline to more than 700 rural federally forested communities and 9 million school children across the nation.

“In 2000, Congress authorized SRS in recognition that layers of environmental regulations had throttled timber production on federal lands, depriving these local communities of timber receipts that helped fund local schools, roads, and emergency services,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was led by Rep. Walden. “With the last reauthorization of SRS expiring last September, rural counties across the country are currently determining how many school teachers, sheriffs, and other essential service employees to lay off this summer in order to cope with the budgetary cliff they face as their new fiscal year starts this July without this program in place.”

They also wrote that “the status quo in our national forests doesn’t work and won’t work going forward,” and they are working with the House Natural Resources Committee on a meaningful long-term solution that would make rural communities more reliant on resource-based industries, rather than checks from the federal government.

Last September, the government’s commitment to rural forested counties lapsed with the expiration of SRS. Rural federally forested counties are now beginning to lay off sheriff deputies, teachers, county road crews and emergency-service personnel as county payments funding runs out in June.

This September, funding for PILT expires. PILT offsets the loss of potential tax revenue on federal lands and keep rural county governments functioning where public lands dominate their landscape.

“Retaining this provision in the surface transportation conference bill will provide us the time needed to meet this obligation through legislation that puts Americans back to work on our public lands, improves forest health, and spares communities of the uncertain future of whether the federal government will meets its end of the obligation,” they wrote. “Most importantly, it will provide our federally forested counties the budget certainty they need to avoid layoffs of teachers, first responders and road crews in the coming months.”

The full text of the letter is below:

May 8, 2012

Dear House and Senate Republican Surface Transportation Conferees:

As you negotiate a final conference committee surface transportation bill, we ask that you retain the one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) included in Title I of Division F of the Senate bill, S. 1813. This one-year extension, which was fully offset and included in S. 1813 by a vote of 82-16, is an urgently needed lifeline for more than 700 rural federally forested communities and 9 million school children across the nation.

The establishment of the National Forest System more than 100 years ago removed between 65 to 90 percent of the forests in many rural western, southeastern and southern counties from further development. Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt recognized that reducing the potential tax base could seriously hamper local communities’ prosperity and established a revenue sharing commitment that provided these communities with 25 percent of the revenues from nearby federal forests. In 2000, Congress authorized SRS in recognition that layers of environmental regulations had throttled timber production on federal lands, depriving these local communities of timber receipts that helped fund local schools, roads, and emergency services. With the last reauthorization of SRS expiring last September, rural counties across the country are currently determining how many school teachers, sheriffs, and other essential service employees to lay off this summer in order to cope with the budgetary cliff they face as their new fiscal year starts this July without this program in place.

Like most of the federally forested communities we represent, we agree that the status quo in our national forests doesn’t work and won’t work going forward. That is why we continue to work with leaders in the House Natural Resources Committee on a meaningful long-term solution that transitions these counties back to the resource-based economies that provided jobs in our forests and mills, and the self-reliance these communities had before Uncle Sam locked up most of the resources and land around them.

Retaining this provision in the surface transportation conference bill will provide us the time needed to meet this obligation through legislation that puts Americans back to work on our public lands, improves forest health, and spares communities of the uncertain future of whether the federal government will meets its end of the obligation. Most importantly, it will provide our federally forested counties the budget certainty they need to avoid layoffs of teachers, first responders and road crews in the coming months.

We appreciate your help in this important issue for our rural communities and schools.

Best regards,

Greg Walden
Mike Simpson
Steve Pearce
Scott Tipton
Jo Ann Emerson
Dan Lungren
Tom McClintock
Paul Gosar, D.D.S
Glenn Thompson
Jason Chaffetz
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Steve Womack
Mark Amodei
Kristi Noem
Dennis Rehberg
Cynthia Lummis

  
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Discuss this article

Bob Clark May 14, 2012

This seems wrong headed. These “short term” bridges have become “long term” welfare, making life uncertain and instilling a sense of inferiority for rural community folks. Instead, the Congress and President should allow rural counties to levy property taxes on the federal forest properties, with credits against such property taxes for actual timber royalities from federal timber harvesting.

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