At issue – yet again — are millions in federal appropriations to rural communities, including Idaho County: PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding.
PILT funds compensate rural counties for non-taxable federal lands within their jurisdictions, and these monies are used to fund services such as law enforcement, fire protection and search and rescue. For this fiscal year, that meant $1.645 million for Idaho County.
SRS payments compensate several western states, including Idaho, for decreases in timber harvest receipts, funds for which go toward county services, education, and environmental restoration projects. For this fiscal year, that meant $6.250 million to Idaho County.
Our region’s public lands are our backyards for both recreation and commerce, ones we share in common with the rest of the nation. But these lands come at a dear price: Idaho County has more than 80 percent of its jurisdiction in public lands, management of which are at the whim of the swinging pendulum of politics and the interpretations of such by federal agencies developing regulatory guidelines.
This past week, Idaho’s senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch appealed to the Republican and Democrat leaders, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, respectively, for bipartisan support of both programs in any year-end funding legislation. Unfortunately, such support pleas are anymore an annual begging ritual.
Obviously, such support makes sense from this chair, as without those funds our county government and local services face significant shortfalls that potentially threatened public health and safety. But there are better arguments to make for those suits hashing this out in Washington, D.C.
As far as appropriations go, PILT is warranted compensation; a federal responsibility that should not be an annual bickering point, subject to political whim. If the nation values and treasures these public lands, there then needs to be commensurate compensation to rural communities.
SRS is a funding compromise that gives both political sides something: compensation for timber-dependent communities, and funds to address environmental restoration and related work. More of a handout? Yes, but until a better alternative is devised – preferably a private market solution ending the addiction to the government dole — this one has to do for the sake of county government solvency.
With all the divisiveness and partisanship in politics, here’s something the majority of us can rally around. And more importantly, support our senators — and encourage more legislators to follow suit — in their efforts.