Sickening, that’s what it is, that our western senators need to go on bended knee to the federal government to request funding for what should be provided as a matter of duty.
This reaction comes with last week’s announcement that a bipartisan group of six senators – including Idaho’s Mike Crapo and Jim Risch – have introduced legislation to reauthorize the PILT program for 10 years.
10 years? That money should be a congressional budget staple, provided gladly, in obligation for what western states have to contend with by having this public lands monkey on their backs.
For background, PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) are federal payments to county governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to the existence of nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries. Established in 1976, the law recognizes the financial impact of the inability of local governments to collect property taxes on federally owned land.
Local governments use PILT payments to help carry out such vital services as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search-and-rescue operations.
What’s the local impact? Idaho County holds the largest amount of public lands of any county within the state, 4,529,095 acres, and its fiscal year payment was $1,762,493.
This latest proposed legislation is an attempt, according to Senator Mike Crapo, to “provided much-needed stability to these counties so they can budget appropriately according to expected revenue and provide these essential services to local citizens and taxpayers.”
“The PILT program impacts every single county in Idaho. Without PILT funding, many rural communities throughout our state and much of the West would face economic devastation,” said Senator Jim Risch. “Our rural communities need a lasting solution, and we owe it to them to fulfill our obligation and reauthorize PILT.”
With due respect to our senators, rural communities are owed more than just a decade’s reprieve until we return with humility and beg for another spooned portion at the king’s pleasure. We’re saddled with these lands, restricted on their usage, our growth hemmed in by their presence, and obligated to provide services within these. Is it any wonder, for example, the Idaho County Commission pitches a shoe each time some governmental agency wishes to snatch up more private ground to add to these and diminish our already strained tax base?
If anything, a proposed 10-year authorization should be to allow Congress to replace PILT with a more equitable, flexible funding option; and if none is found, PILT is automatically authorized – period, end of story -- for another 10 years. In other words, funding is sustained and dependable for local budgeting needs, and the burden is instead on Congress to provide something better or remain with the PILT status quo; either way, that duty of the fed funding its obligation is maintained.
And while we’re talking about PILT, here’s another fun fact. PILT funding is based on not only the amount of total acreage within a county, but also on its population.
So, what’s that breakdown for Idaho County, population 16,267? Well, we get 39 cents an acre for this fiscal year. Quite the bargain on 4.5 million acres.
In comparison, the state’s highest populated county, Ada, has 392,365 people, and for their 297,579 acres, this breaks out to $2.77 per acre for their total $823,457 PILT payment.
Really? Ada County has just less than 7 percent of Idaho County’s total, and yet their lands are worth $2.38 an acre more?
Perhaps, at our king’s pleasure, of course, Congress would consider reviewing the PILT funding formula so that funding is based upon land within these jurisdictions, rather than the number of voters.