WASHINGTON -- Legislation to extend and improve federal county payments programs today passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee on bipartisan votes. Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and James Risch, R-Idaho, wrote and backed bills to continue the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program by extending payments for two more years.
Since enacted in 2000, SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states to fund schools and essential services like roads and public safety. According to county and education leaders, nine million students—nearly 19 percent of all K-12 students in the nation—attend rural schools. But federal lands in rural counties do not pay property taxes, limiting school budgets, as well as county road and search and rescue budgets.
Legislation to extend SRS county payments, and to improve the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program (PILT) were approved by the ENR Committee today under Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). She and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) held an informational hearing on the bills November 21.
“Idaho is almost two-thirds federally-owned, severely limiting our tax base for roads and schools because federal lands contribute no property taxes,” Crapo said. “These county payments programs are critical for Idahoans.”
“Idaho’s rural counties deserve stability and relief,” Risch said. “They shouldn’t be subjected to the annual guessing game of whether they’ll be able to provide critical county services like road maintenance and education. Insufficient or delinquent SRS and PILT payments aren’t simply an inconvenience for these communities. It threatens their entire way of life. Congress must support our rural communities and reauthorize SRS and PILT.”
Crapo’s S. 430 reauthorizes the Secure Rural Schools payments for two years. The Committee also approved S. 2108, the Small County PILT Parity Act, sponsored by Senator Steve Daines, (R-Montana). This legislation would modify the current PILT formula to increase the amount of funding counties with fewer than 5,000 people can receive. Crapo and Risch are co-sponsors of the bill.
With the Committee votes, these county payment bills advance to the full Senate for consideration. SRS payments expired last year.