Rocky Mountain Farmers Union sent letters to the Senate and the House urging support of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, funding. The PILT program provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes because of non-taxable federal land within their boundaries. These resources help pay for critical services like search and rescue, road maintenance and fire protection.
Community Agriculture Alliance
This weekly column about agriculture issues is written by area farmers, ranchers and policymakers. It publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
In our letter to RMFU’s House members, we reminded them that “PILT provides compensation to more than 1,900 counties for lost tax revenues. County budgets rely on PILT funds to sustain their economies. Traditionally, PILT funds have helped rural counties absorb the loss in property taxes that comes with federal ownership of acreage in the county.”
PILT compensation is based on the amount of federal lands and the population in each county. Money for the program is revenue from commercial activities permitted on federal lands, such as livestock grazing, oil and gas leases and logging. The federal government owns more than a third of the land in Colorado, including 8 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, and in some Western counties, as much as 80 percent of the land is federally controlled. In 2013, 56 Colorado counties received a total of more than $31 million to help pay for law enforcement, road repairs, schools and first responders.
Mesa and Garfield counties each received about $3 million in PILT funds in 2013. Rio Blanco, Gunnison and Montrose counties also receive significant compensation for lost tax revenues through PILT. Continuation of PILT funding has been estimated to mean roughly a half million dollars for Moffat County and $1.5 million for Routt County in 2014.
Rep. Scott Tipton fought unsuccessfully to keep PILT funding in the budget, along with colleagues from Colorado and other Western states. After the passage of the budget bill, Tipton said, “While I appreciate assurances from leadership that PILT will be renewed in the Farm Bill, this is not a sure thing, and the absence of PILT funding in today’s appropriations package creates great uncertainty for all 29 counties in my district.” He promised to continue fighting for restoration of PILT funds.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet joined county commissioners from a dozen counties in Northwest Colorado at the Old County Courthouse in Grand Junction on Jan. 20 to assess the impacts of revenue loss and to urge Congressional action to restore critical PILT funds. At the meeting, Sen. Bennet said, “These are critical payments that the Federal Government owes to local Colorado communities. The fact that we even have to have this fight is evidence of the wide gap that exists between what happens in Washington, and what folks actually deal with on the ground out here in Colorado.”
Sens. Bennet and Mark Udall joined a broad coalition of senators in fighting to include PILT funding in the farm bill. Bennet serves on the farm bill conference committee, which currently is negotiating the final legislation.
The House approved the farm bill Wednesday on a 251-166 vote, sending the bill to the Senate. The White House says President Barack Obama will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Kent Peppler is the president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.