2There was both good and bad news on the plate that Western Counties Alliance Field Director Ken Brown of Randolph, Utah brought to the County Commission board meeting March 16.

His last visit to the commission meeting was Jan. 6.

Western Counties Alliance is a government sector lobbying association representing 38 counties in the states of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico and Utah.

The good news Brown said was the Payment in Lieu of Taxes payments for 2015 were going to be a little larger than in 2014.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) are federal payments to local governments, signed into law in 1976, that help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable Federal lands within their boundaries.

Last year, Brown reported, the gross amount was $437 million, and for 2015 the amount will raise to $442 million. “We’re fortunate to get that increase,” he noted, “because many of the feds in the east still view PILT as ‘Western Welfare.’”

He added, “I have indicated to some of those folks, try to come out here and provide services on public land. Just take the place of the counties in the west for six month or a year, and you’ll find out.”

An unfortunate note for 2015, Brown stated, is how the feds want to pay PILT. The idea is to make one payment in June, and delay another $37 million until Oct. 1, which is the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year.

Brown said he was going to visit soon with the feds about that and see if they were going to continue with the idea of holding some of the payments until October, and to also “see how we might get PILT put on a permanent basis.” He said last year there were two pieces of legislation in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate, but the bills were not acted upon before the end of the session. “And they didn’t want to deal with money issues too much in an election year,” he said.

Brown said he would hope to see the two PILT bills introduced again in the current session of Congress.
Another idea put forth by some lawmakers in Congress is to cut full funding, a form of property tax, from PILT, as a way to help reduce the national deficit. If that should happen, Brown said counties in the Western Alliance would stand to lose up to 38 percent, or more, of their annual PILT revenue. “But, there seems to be little support to do that, and there has been a good effort from a variety of groups to keep the PILT issue on course.”

Commission chair Kevin Phillips said Congress deceives themselves by calling it “full funding,” because that is really a false term, but did not explain why he thinks that.

Paul Donohue said, “If PILT were to be made permanent by law, then the counties would know every year what amount from the federal government they would be receiving.”

Brown said he has told members of Congress during his lobbying visits, the government needs to “stop buying more and more private property, there is more land under federal jurisdiction in the West than you can manage. That takes the land off the local tax rolls and creates impacts to the counties.”

He said “anyone with land under their jurisdiction, be it private, county, state, or federal, needs to pay a form of property tax, plain and simple. That will help fund the PILT program.”

He also suggested the government take $450 million out of foreign aid, and it won’t hurt a bit.

The bad news Brown spoke about was no reauthorization for SRS, or Secure Rural Schools, for 2015.

The SRS law, introduced in 2000, allowed counties with federal timber lands to choose between the 25-percent payment they once received from federal timber receipts or an average of what the county received between 1986 and 1999.

Recently, Senator Jon Tester, D. Montana, recently introduced bipartisan legislation to fully fund Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Tester’s bill reauthorizes SRS payments for three years at the level provided in 2011.

Brown said this will not hurt Lincoln County so much, as it does not have a lot of forested land, but it will hurt some for the other counties in the Alliance that do rely heavily on federal timber receipts. He reasoned, “If the feds would allow that land to be put into production, which they will not, SRS would not be needed because there would be sufficient revenue generated from the forest land if multiple use was in production like it needs to be.”

He told Commissioners he had heard the White House put $276 million in their budget for SRS, but Congress would not approve it.