On April 25, the National Association of Counties (NACo) sent a letter to congressional leadership urging them to renew their long-standing commitment to public lands and forested counties by reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for FY 2016 and beyond and fully funding PILT for FY 2017 and into the future.
The letter, sent to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), urges congressional leaders to consider the bipartisan support PILT has within Congress and highlights the critical resources the program provides to nearly 1,900 counties across 49 states. The letter articulates how important PILT is to offset forgone county revenues due to the presence of tax-exempt federal lands within their boundaries. The letter also describes how the SRS program provides critical resources to forest counties impacted by federal policies that have reduced revenue-generating activities on federal forest land within their borders, and calls on leadership to reauthorize the program, which expired in 2015 and has yet to be reauthorized.
Sixty-two percent of counties have federal public lands, and even though counties cannot collect property taxes on federal land, we still must provide critical services for county residents and millions of public lands visitors every year, including law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical, fire protection, waste disposal, road and bridge maintenance and public health services. Without full funding for the PILT program, counties across the nation will be forced to eliminate or severely curtail these services.
In FY 2016, Congress funded PILT at $452 million. Under the FY 17 continuing resolution (P.L. 114-254), which is set to expire on April 28, 2017, Congress again funded PILT at $452 million. However, the U.S. Department of Interior has estimated that $480 million will be necessary to fully fund PILT for the remainder of FY 2017. Without predictable, mandatory funding, PILT will remain a discretionary program subject to the annual appropriations process and counties will continue to struggle with fiscal uncertainty as they develop their annual budgets.
Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments support public schools, roads, forest health projects, essential search and rescue and emergency services, and many other county programs. These funds help provide stability for forest counties and school districts affected by reduced revenue due to federal policies that have dramatically curtailed federal timber receipts. For over 100 years, the federal government has shared 25 percent of federal forest revenues with counties to compensate them for federal ownership of forest lands that cannot be taxed at the local level, but these revenue-sharing payments are no longer sufficient to cover the services we must provide. Unless SRS is quickly reauthorized, forest counties across the country will face, on average, an 80 percent reduction in federal forest payments, causing severe budgetary shortfalls that could impact counties' ability to provide services to our residents.
NACo continues to work with Congress and the administration to secure full, mandatory and predictable funding for the PILT program so that America’s counties can continue to provide crucial services to both our residents and public lands visitors alike.