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LETTER: Full funding sought for Payment in Lieu of Taxes, Secure Rural Schools programs

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March 16, 2017

Honorable Lisa Murkowski
Chairwoman
U.S. Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies
131 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable Tom Udall
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies
125 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable Ken Calvert
Chairman
U.S. House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies
B-308 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Honorable Betty McCollum
Ranking Member
U.S. House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies
B-308 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairwoman Murkowski, Chairman Calvert, Ranking Member Udall, and Ranking Member McCollum:

We respectfully request your active support and full funding of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) programs for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 and throughout Fiscal Year 2018.  Western Governors have long advocated that the federal government must fulfill its obligation to fund these programs for rural counties with tax-exempt federal lands and for timber-dependent counties that rely on this funding to provide necessary government services to their citizens.  That commitment was reiterated by the Governors through passage in December 2016 of WGA Policy Resolution 2017-03, Tax-Exempt Federal Lands and Secure Rural Schools.

The PILT was enacted in 1976 to provide direct payments to nearly 1,900 counties in 49 states and three U.S. territories to compensate them for the presence of non-taxable federal lands in their jurisdictions.  These payments are not a subsidy to local governments.  PILT provides funding to offset the loss of property tax revenues, because federal lands cannot be taxed.  These payments also help to fund critical services on lands, including law enforcement, search and rescue, fire management, solid waste management, and emergency medical services.  Without PILT payments, local governments often lack even minimal resources to manage these important functions.

Congress enacted the SRS Act in 2000 to compensate more than 700 forest counties and school districts for lost timber revenues due to changes in federal forest management policy.  Title I of the Act authorizes SRS funding to be used for schools and roads.  It also allows funding to be used for stewardship projects on federal lands to enhance forest ecosystems, watershed restoration, wildlife and fish habitat, and control of invasive species.  Title II funding can be used for restoration projects proposed by local resource advisory committees.  Title III funding may be used to carry out activities under the Firewise Communities program, reimburse counties for search and rescue and other emergency services, or to develop community wildfire protection plans.  In short, these SRS funds provide critical funding for basic services while also providing an important funding source for responsible management activities on forests and rangelands in these counties.

Local governments cannot provide needed educational and public safety services without adequate PILT and SRS payments.  As the next appropriations cycle approaches, we urge you to fully support these programs, as well as work together to find a permanent funding solution to end the annual authorization and appropriations uncertainty that interferes with planning and budgeting in these small communities.

We thank you for your support of these two programs that are so important to Western states.

Sincerely,

Steve Bullock
Governor, State of Montana
WGA Chair

Dennis Daugaard
Governor, State of South Dakota
WGA Vice Chair

cc: Members, Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
Members, House Committee on Natural Resources
Members, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

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